From a very early age, both of my children have uttered the phrase “It’s not fair!” on numerous occasions. They didn’t overhear it from their parents; it didn’t have to be taught to them. I think the concept of fairness and unfairness is ingrained in each of us. We cry out for justice when we perceive injustice. Unless of course we perceive the scales tend to tip in our favor, then maybe it’s not so big a deal.
This is another reason I hate writing–or more specifically–the business of writing and publishing. Because it’s not fair. Don’t believe me? Peruse the New York Times Best Seller List and note how many books on that list are written by or about celebrities, or go to the local bookstore and try NOT to find a vampire romance novel. Meanwhile, your literary masterpiece sits on the corner of your desk held together by the giant binder clip of despair.
But here’s the thing: it can’t possibly be fair. Because what constitutes good writing, or rather, good reading is so completely subjective, and the publishing business is–well–a business.
In the book Harry Potter and Philosophy, William Irwin states:
“(J.K.) Rowling is not Shakesphere, nor has she ever claimed to be. But as Mark Twain once said of his own books, they’re less wine than water, before adding this, ‘Everyone drinks water’…Something’s popularity is decisive evidence of neither its truth nor falsehood, neither its value or worthlessness.”
So what’s a writer with dreams of publication and at least a small amount of notoriety to do against seemingly insurmountable odds? Most of you who have been at this for any amount of time already know what I’m about to tell you, and I’m no expert, but I play one on the Internets. So I’ll offer you this unsolicited advice (I know–you’re welcome):
- Man up or put your big girl panties on. (Or both–I’m not here to judge you.) Be ready for the long haul. It’s been my observation that behind every overnight success story you’ll find a long path of blood, sweat, tears and rejection letters.
- Study your craft. Read books about writing, plot and structure and (please!) basic grammar and sentence structure. You may be good, but you can always be better, and “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” (Stephen King)
- Devote serious, uninterrupted time to writing. Even if what you’re writing is utter crap, keep writing. No one else has to see it, but if you’re really committed to writing, you can’t just write when you feel like it. If you don’t take this seriously no one else will either.
- Live a better story. Then write a better story.
- Don’t quit your day job just yet.
- If you think a life of a writer is too hard; that you’ll never make it, quit. Do something else.
- If you found yourself nodding your head while reading the previous point and feeling a huge weight being removed from your shoulders, you’re probably not cut out to be a professional writer. (See previous point.)
And remember this bit of advice from the Great One:
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“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
Wash the car, maybe.”
~Stephen King, On Writing