Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing and Golf (or, What to Do, What to Do)

(This should be read in a matter-of-fact, non-whiny voice. It is not a pity party.)

I am about this close to calling it quits with trying to get published. And probably not for the reasons you would anticipate. I've been reading some agent blogs lately, and yeah, the numbers are staggeringly discouraging. One agent said he gets about 15,000 queries per year and takes on 3-5 new clients. But that's not what has discouraged me.  One agent answered my question about the future of historical fiction honestly by saying, "I won't lie. It's tough." I appreciate her straight answer, and although it's a discouraging answer for me, both as a writer and as a reader, that's not what has discouraged me.

Here's the discouraging part: I've been reading the comments left on those blogs, too, most of which are left by aspiring writers. And there are three attitudes that I'm picking up on that, if they are representative of "the game," just turn me off.  First, some people are just rude. It makes me think of what I learned about life in elementary school - some people try to make themselves look good (or in the case of these comments, clever or "with it" or saavy about the world of publishing) by belittling others in replies to those others' comments. I don't know why I'm surprised by that; aspiring writers are a microcosm of the rest of society, and there's a percentage of people in any field who are that way.

Second, I don't like the constant self-promotion (or promotion of one's work, I guess). I know in this competitive environment it's really important to get the word out. And I know that if you don't toot your own horn, no one else is going to do it. But some commentors manage to work in a discussion of their plot or characters no matter what the original topic of the post is.

Finally, and this one bothers me most, no one seems to be listening to anyone else. There may be 100+ comments, but most of them are discrete responses to the original post. Only occasionally does something like a conversation get going. Maybe I misunderstand the purpose of comments and am thinking of something that is more like a forum or discussion board. But I sometimes think the internet has made it all too easy for each of us to have our say without paying any attention to what someone else is saying. 

So....back to my original contention, that I think I might quit. I'm not a competitive person. I don't want to have to engage in those sorts of behaviors to "succeed."  I don't want to be famous. The only reason I started writing was because I wanted to tell the story. Somewhere along the way, I began to think writing was only worthwhile if it "paid off." I felt too guilty about spending time at the computer instead of playing with my kids or washing dishes if there wasn't going to be a product that could bring in something as return on investment. But you know something? I bet there are millions of golfers who spend lots of time on the golf course but never expect to play professionally. They do it because it is relaxing and enjoyable. Why can't I feel the same way about my writing?

Maybe I should put my story on the Kindle store for 99 cents and be done with it!

(The thing that makes me reluctant to do that, though, is that I might lose the drive to improve the story. If I had put my book out there when I first finished it two/three years ago, it would have been flabby compared to what it is today, when I'm trying to edit it into a form strong enough to attract an agent's attention. But then again, maybe I'm editing the thing to death. I just know that when I go back after a couple of weeks and read the chapters I've trimmed 500 words out of, I realize those chapters are MUCH better than before. It's pretty amazing how virile the language can be when every word is forced to carry a major load!)

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