It’s a Strange Old Game, You Learn It Slow (Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug)*

I was reading this Newsweek article a few weeks ago, about a highly successful art gallery owner, known for discovering and nurturing new talent:

In all her years as a dealer, it seems she has only once had to tell an artist that new work was weak. “But I didn’t put it that way. I just said, ‘We’re not in a hurry. We can wait,’” she says with a twinkle.

Yes. That’s the way to do it. Sometimes an editor has to deliver bad news too (to an author, or perhaps to the author’s publishing company). Sometimes a manuscript just isn’t ready; sometimes it isn’t fixable; sometimes the writer needs more practice. And while you may not believe this, it’s as painful for me to tell someone this as it is for him or her to hear it. I try to find aspects of the manuscript to praise, always. And then I gently say, “This was your practice novel.”

You may have to practice a lot. :) (Remember the 10,000–Hour Rule.) Author Marcus Brotherton wrote about this very subject for literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog, and he’s written at least three novels—with all the work that implies—that were just practice. (It’s a good piece; you should definitely read it.) One of the points is that “good” isn’t good enough any more. The thriving self-publishing industry notwithstanding, if you want to be a published author—and a lot of folks believe they’ve got a book in them and are sitting in front of their computers, night after night, because they believe it that strongly—you are going to have to be great.

The urge to create, to be creative, is born in us, I think—which accounts for the high number of budding authors. (Sir Ken Robinson, among others, has written and spoken movingly on this topic.) Publishing expert Jane Friedman recently wrote there are three questions every creative must ask:

1. Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience?

2. How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part?

3. What is your killer medium?

That last one is key. Friedman says, “For me (personally), it’s not the book form” and goes on:

Speaking about writers specifically, the book is often assumed to be the most authoritative and important medium, but that’s only because we’ve all been led to believe that (through a culture that has created The Myth about the author as authority). … Creative people too often pursue mediums that have been pushed on them by other people, and because it’s the well-worn path.

Consider this as you move forward with your manuscript. When you are ready, an editor can help you. But to make your time with your editor really count, do your homework. Prepare. Practice.

*From the song by Mark Knopfler: “The Bug”

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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