31 August 2011

When Writers Run Aground

            It’s been a tough few weeks for my fellow writers, friends and family. Short version: a sister who has separated from the love of her life; a close creative friend having a daughter post a blog about all of mom’s perceived failures as a mother; a dear friend and accomplished novelist who has had her editor reject the latest novel while all along saying she loved it; and our oldest granddaughter, well, for lack of a better way to say it, going to the dark side.
            Ai, we all face a stream of these situations at times, and the combined heartache loads us down too much to be creative or funny, and we have to wait out the storm.

            But when the storm sends a giant wave that hits our writing broadside (like a lying editor) you fear you’ll sink. The publishing world is cruel, no bones about it. Writers pray to Neptune to manage the difficult waters. Our fear is we’ll be at sea and Neptune will have a hissy fit, strike the ground with his trident, and capsize our ship.
            But most of the time, the damage is to the psyche. Remember being picked last for a baseball team? Now picture millions standing there, waiting to be picked for their writing talent (or marketability, as the case may be). It’s not hyperbole when people tell you getting published by a New York publisher is like winning the lottery. I often think that submitting a new novel to an editor is like taking a lovely new puppy to the vet, and the vet says, “I’m sorry, your puppy is not as cute as the others I’ve seen,” then after examining your dear pup, adds, “and your puppy needs a major operation, and I’m not sure which organ needs to come out for your puppy to live.”

            This is how we often interpret editor’s feedback on "our baby." In order to stay afloat, writers rely heavily on the advice of our fellow shipmates as to what to do. Unfortunately, no matter our skills, our background, our connections, we can’t control outside forces, we can only manage how we deal with them. There's no map to the right route. And sometimes that results in wailing and crying and cursing, because who is going to tell us with any accuracy what is wrong with our puppy and what organ needs extracting? Or even if this is an accurate diagnosis? Add to that our new publishing world and all those personal and family storms and we're lucky we can launch at all.

            However! I believe it’s you, reader, who keeps us going and will ultimately determine what speaks to you and who saves someone’s puppy. As one dear friend said, "Picture your novel on someone's bedside table," and I do.
            My heart goes out to all creatives, for we live in times where GDP trumps GNH (Gross National Happiness in Bhutan). Ultimately we are alone in dealing with our shipwrecks, our storms, and the attacks. But in the world of writing and creating, our fellow crewmembers keep us from jumping overboard.
            And with that, I direct you, mates, to this blog entry, “Creativity,” by my brilliant friend Barbara Sullivan. I think it speaks best if read aloud because it connects the two body parts, heart and brain, that can never be extracted.

            Until next time, when rocky shores should be and hopefully are miles away, I am with you,
            Captain Val 

Fashionable Writer-Pirates: What They're Wearing This Season
Readers Beware! What you need to know about reviews and recommendations
What it Takes to be a Writer

And … an unusual interview with cartoonist Jan Eliot of “Stone Soup”


writeonwithsheila said... [Reply to comment]


Val in Paris said... [Reply to comment]

@writeonwithsheila Yes, Neptune is a whole lot moodier than most of the goddesses. Must be the water! Hang in there, Sheila, and enjoy the calm waters when possible.

Val in Paris said... [Reply to comment]

Comment from Barbara Sullivan via email:

I think this entry took a lot of courage (sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between courage and despair). I am very glad you wrote this, and not because you linked to my blog, though THANK YOU so much for that unexpected gift. Heartache may not be creative or funny, but it's real, and writers are the people we count on to help us with real shit.

As regards the publishing establishment, as long as we have day jobs and the Internet, we don't really need it anymore in order to be heard/read (not that I don't hope to plunder it myself, if I ever finish a book). When I was at the Antioch Writers Workshop recently, that was the message I heard from Kevin Watson, founder of Press 53 (who also seemed to be a very nice guy, by the way--unaffected, straightforward, not full of himself but dedicated to his work). One reason why NY editors are scared to buy anything, I'm sure, is because they feel the ground shaking under them as the corporate lit world sinks itself, paying the price for the bottom-line mentality that replaced love of literature as its mission statement. With social networking, Amazon.com, and print-on-demand, Watson claims, as a writer you can "find your people" and stop working for the company store. Of course you won't get a $100,000 advance that way--but who the hell is getting that kind of money anyway!

Although pirates, like the rest of us, are a very mixed lot in real life, I like the spirit of rebellious independence and camaraderie you hold up with that metaphor. And since NY seems to see most of us writers as an undeserving, scurvy lot anyway, we might as well own it and start hoisting our own flags.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Val in Paris From Lou via email. Totally agree, Lou!

If you think about it, it is the pain that drives our writing and our lives. If we had none. we would be so complacent, so replete with pleasure and bon hominy we would foster festering on the lounge chair of self absorbed satisfaction.
God help us.