Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On rereading through the lens of experience
(and scrotums)

Last night, I was lurking about on Twitter when I saw the following tweet from writer Ruthanne Reid:

@ruthannereid: I kinda needed this tonight: A ski racer, singer, and author walk into a bar... #amwriting #pubtip (via @tawnafenske)

For those who don't speak Twitter-ese, she was providing a link to an old post I wrote last February 18, 2010. The timing is interesting there. I started this blog on February 1. On February 25 I got the call from my agent that Sourcebooks was offering a three-book deal for my romantic comedies.

In other words, I wrote the post a week before I knew whether there was a publishing contract on the horizon or if I'd be continuing to hurl myself at the wall for weeks, months, or even years.

It's interesting to me to reread the post with that in mind. I still like what I wrote, and since that's the case, I'm sharing it here again. I'm also posing a question for discussion in the comments, if you're so inclined – do you ever go back and read things you wrote before major life events? How does that lens of experience change the way you think of about it?

And now, I give you the post (which was known by the few readers I had at the time as "the scrotum post.")

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A ski racer, a singer, and an author walk into a bar

I write humorous fiction, so generally speaking, I try not to get too serious on this blog.

But occasionally I’ll have a point I want to make, so I’ll warn you that today’s entry may not make you laugh (unless I decide to insert the word “scrotum” at random intervals, which come to think of it, would be funny).

Pythagoras has been involved in ski racing since he was a wee tot, so he loves the Olympics. Yesterday was the women’s downhill, and as many expected, American Lindsey Vonn won gold.

While Pythagoras is thrilled, he noted that several of Vonn’s competitors routinely beat her on the World Cup circuit. There’s no question Vonn is incredibly talented (scrotum), but that doesn’t mean the German racer who finished eighth yesterday won’t kick her butt again next week.

To the outside world, ski racing seems simple – if you’re the fastest, you win. Period. The clock doesn’t lie.

But there are other factors to consider. Yesterday, Vonn chose to race on men’s skis, and as it turned out, the terrain on the course was rough – perfect conditions for that equipment. (scrotum) But had she chosen different skis or a different wax, or had a competitor not gotten behind on a turn, things could have ended differently.

It wouldn’t have been a reflection of Vonn’s talent either way – just the circumstances. Though winning proves Vonn is indeed a tremendous athlete, not winning doesn’t mean the others aren’t every bit as good.

Here’s another example: a friend of mine loves American Idol, so sometimes I watch if there’s wine involved. Last night, the judges whittled the field from 50 to 24, and the blogosphere is abuzz with speculation that so-and-so didn’t make it because the producers limit the number of singers with a certain hair color, skin color, or vocal style.

While there’s no doubt the final 24 contestants will make many singing missteps along the way (scrotum), the decisions at this stage aren’t just about who’s the best singer. With a room full of similarly-talented singers to choose from, the judges are most certainly considering factors that have nothing to do with vocal skill.

What does this have to do with writing? I’m getting there. (scrotum)

Over the years, I’ve critiqued work for a number of unpublished writers. Sometimes I’ve found myself thinking, “she’s so good, why isn’t she published yet?” Likewise, I’ve seen plenty of authors beat themselves up over rejections from agents or editors or critique partners. “If I were better,” they tell themselves, “I’d be published by now.”

But it doesn’t always work that way. While it’s true that authors who achieve publication tend to be talented, that doesn’t mean the ones who aren’t there yet aren’t every bit as talented. Someone else’s success doesn’t diminish your talent.

This is something I have to remind myself as well. A few years ago, I sold my first book to Silhouette Bombshell and had already cashed the check and written two follow-up books when the line was cancelled. None of my books hit the shelves. Convinced I needed an agent, I wrote a new book and began querying. Four amazing agents offered representation, one of whom described my book as “an easy sale.”

But guess what? The book didn’t sell. And none of the feedback from editors said the writing wasn’t good enough. In one case, we were told the publishing house already had something too similar. In another case, the editor just didn’t like the subject.

I’m not making excuses here (scrotum). Believe me, there’s room for improvement in my writing, and I work hard at that every day. But I also know that if a writer doesn’t get published quickly, it’s not necessarily because he or she isn’t talented. Surely I must have some talent to secure a previous book deal and the interest of multiple agents, but for whatever reason, I’m not published. Yet.

Luckily, I now have the most amazing agent on the planet, Michelle Wolfson, who remains confident we’re almost there. I believe it too, so I try not to take rejections personally.

I thought of this last night as I watched a sobbing American Idol hopeful receive his rejection news. “You did nothing wrong,” the judges insisted. And he really hadn’t. But they still picked 12 other male vocalists over him. Yes, the others were talented, but their selection doesn’t mean the other guy is less talented.

The most important thing an author can have isn’t talent or a good agent. It’s perseverance. It’s the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and say “just because someone else won this time doesn’t mean I won’t win next time.”



Patrick Alan said...

I'm glad this post was before you started the 'look what I am holding'(scrotum) picture along with each post.

Patty Blount said...

I've not been blogging very long... but used to enjoy writing fan fiction many years ago. The lens of experience most definitely changes the way I think about those stories now.

The thing about fan fiction is the characters aren't yours. You get to write plot and introduce some secondary characters, but you have to do this by adhering to canon. Fan fiction is a great exercise for those just starting to write... I had great fun with it and when I look back on some of those stories now - 15 or 20 years later, I should be embarrassed.

Instead, I celebrate how much I've grown as a writer.

Danica Avet said...

If we're talking about fiction we've written, then yes, I look at old stories I started and never finished and wonder, "What was I thinking???". If we're talking about old blog posts, I still wonder, "What the hell was I thinking??".

The best part of writing, I find, is the steady growth we all make as writers. It's about maturing into the writers we want to be.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Gosh, I got back and look at a tweet that I sent five minutes ago (ear wax) and wonder, "WTF was I thinking?"

Génette Wood said...

I'm more ashamed of me than of my writing.

I spent three years writing for the high school newspaper, and while my "colleagues" didn't take our sponsor's critiques to heart, I soaked them up. I learned to disconnect myself from the emotion and concentrate on the grammar/content in difficult situations.

Unfortunately, there was that one article about the future student body president. My school didn't allow PDA, he had a handsy girlfriend, and I had a crush on him. It was a damn good article, but I can't read it without feeling completely shamed.

Sarah W said...

My Dad occasionally arrives at my house with a cartonful of my old scribblings.

It's both wretchedly embarrassing and fun to go through them, wondering if it's hardwired for twelve-year olds to write derivative stories about unicorns and fairies in pink ink and purple adjectives---and for fifteen-year olds to write angsty-bad poetry.

What's amazing to me is that I generated so many effortless words without thinking about it. Now that I am thinking about it, sheesh, it ain't easy.

And Patsy? I'm with you about the fanfiction!

Mark Simpson said...

My experience with this is more in music, but I am always amazed at how many incredibly talented people there are playing the local scene--and I'm sure its like that just about everywhere.

To really make it in that biz you just about have to drop everything on a million to one shot, and then still get really lucky. (These days I think it is more about being good looking than anything. A good studio can "fix" the rest for the average listener.) I could go on for hours about the de-evolution of skill in popular music, but I digress.

I was once standing with a very good player I know when an 11 year old come up saying, "I'm a better singer than you are." The kid (another friend's lovely child) is actually fairly talented and fearless, but also a cocky little bastard with a big beating probably in store somewhere in his future.

I loved my friend's retort, he just smiled at the scowling kid. "Why can't we both be good. What's wrong with that?"

Linda G. said...

Thanks for a timely reminder. :)

Anne Gallagher said...

I look at old stuff and I can either laugh or cry. Usually I can find something to salvage -- a Character, a secondary, a sub-plot. It's a learning experience.


Anonymous said...

You're posts always come at the best time.