Friday, December 5, 2008


Last night, I read an article in On the Premises, an on-line newsletter for writers. The article, One Thing I Would Tell Writers, was the product of best-selling author Jodi Thomas. What she essentially said was "be prepared to fall." Oh, Ms. Thomas wasn't talking about that slip on the ice or tripping over that toy that Junior left in the kitchen floor. No. She was talking about moving on.

What does it mean to move on. According to Thomas, it means burying corpses. I have one corpse already buried, a manuscript that was obliterated from my document files long ago. There were no sad songs, no tears, no mournful cries. I looked up the title, hit delete, answered the question my computer asked regarding my serious intent. I seriously intended to forget the manuscript was ever written. I can't. I remember the title and the premise. That Clark Boy, my deceased first effort as a novelist, is dead. Good riddance.

I have another novel, what I lovingly call my real first effort, that may very well suffer the same fate. I'm not one of those writers who can't move on to another book if the first one fails to get the attention of an agent or publisher. Maybe it's because that 'real first effort' did get some attention that keeps it in the document files and not relegated to a dusty, floppy disc in the attic. It may be, however, that all I got from the months of painstaking work that ultimately resulted in that manuscript is an understanding of how to get a little attention. I learned that eighty percent of attention comes from the query letter.

In my writing group, I'm called "Query Dawg." Odd title, isn't it? Not so odd when you think about the attention I garnered for my first 'real effort.' After several rounds of querying, I received multiple requests for partial and full manuscripts. True, some of the requests came from questionable agents whose business offices were in BFE, Kansas, but some came from the most reputable agencies in New York and California. I did okay for a beginner.

I'm a firm believer that all things happen for a reason, that our associations and efforts are somehow guided from above, and that all we're asked to do in our lives is interpret the signs. Our job, our true input to our own successes and failures, comes solely from our ability to recognize true opportunity when it finally knocks. It always knocks, but we sometimes fail to answer the door. My ailing manuscript came to fruition for two reasons: 1)It taught me that I could write a novel and wasn't just a wishful thinker when it came to becoming an author. 2)I learned the query is the thing to catch the eye of the agent who, in turn, will catch the eye of the publisher. In that regard, I also learned how to write a query that might tantalize a prospective agent into taking at least a quick look at what an author has to offer. Ergo: I am "Query Dawg," and am frequently asked to take a quick look at queries from other would-be authors.

Jodi Thomas's advice is worthy of following. "Be prepared to fall," she says. I agree. If the goal is to become published, then you have to accept the idea that everything you write isn't worthy of that goal. Sometimes, no matter how long and how hard you've worked on a manuscript, you have to bury it on that floppy disc in the attic. I'm not saying that there won't be tears for words lost. What I am saying is that you must wipe your eyes, throw the tissue in the trash, and go back and try again. Find the right combination of story and words, of plot and action, and start the process all over again.


. said...

I agree, however I am a firm believer in never throwing anything away, writing-wise. "That Clark Boy" might have been terrible, but you might also have had a passage or two in there that was gold, that could be used again. You've tossed it, now you'll never know.

Same with any novel trunked. And, the one you're talking about isn't dead. It needs what all new writers REFUSE to accept -- to be put away for a year, then taken out, re-read, and revised. And possibly put away again...until it's right.

You hear me talk about this all the time. Most first novels don't get published because they stink. But they stink because their writers refuse to put time into their careers. They feel that the book is done, so it needs must immediately race out to agents. The agents, quite rightly, throw up all over it, and the writer blames the BOOK.

It's not the book. What's wrong with the book can, and should, be fixed. Sometimes that fix is simple. Sometimes it's a full rewrite. Sometimes MANY rewrites. But the book, the idea, isn't at fault. The fault lies with the author. The fix and save lies with the author, too.

This is a hurry up and wait business. It demands patience. Part of that patience needs to be focused on the works themselves -- having the patience to finish, put it aside, start another, finish, put it aside, start another, go back to the first, revise, put aside, and so on.

Until an author learns and internalizes that, they'll keep on blaming "the book" for what's wrong. What's wrong is that they're not a good enough writer to write "the book" properly.

Go forth and BECOME a good enough writer. And throw nothing away, because one day, you'll BE a good enough writer to salvage it, even if it's "The Clark Boy".

-- Gini

WKEverhart said...

The novel that's currently in the trunk CAN be salvaged, but only after I put in my time. I'm completely convinced about that one. The story in the trunk needs to be told.

Somewhere, deep in my trunk of despair, there's a dog-earred hard copy of Mr. Clark. After I win the Pulitzer, I may drag him out and give him a make-over. Who knows? Until then, I'll keep putting in my time and my hundreds of thousands of words. When I get reach the throngs of agented and published, I'm sure I'll feel a pang for at least a look-see.

. said...

It never hurts to be able to look back and remember where you came from.

I have to sit on my hands whenever I look through my first novel.

However, it's 9th revision is adored by my agent. And I learned to write by rewriting that puppy multiple times.

You can't hurry the steps needed between starting as an apprentice and becoming a master. This is both art and craft, and therefore, demands talent and perseverence. You have the talent. You just need patience while you persevere.

-- Gini