Monday, 24 March 2008

Writing Pitfall #1: Being Too Precious

Let's face it, you're not the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King. Heck, when they started, Hemingway and King weren't the next Hemingway and King. Hemingway wrote a lot of mediocre journalism before he made it big, and King spent years pounding out scenes on an old typewriter set between his washer and dryer before he saw publication.

A lot of beginning writers (and midlist writers, for that matter) think their first efforts are perfect, and will be snapped up by a big New York publisher for tens of thousands of dollars. A movie deal will come next, and literary stardom. Fame and wealth and hot women. . .

Wrong. Writing is hard, often thankless work. If it isn't its own reward then you shouldn't be doing it. Yes, you can get published and if you work at it long enough you probably will be, but if you're in it for the money, quit now and go into banking.

I've seen way too many self-styled "undiscovered geniuses" screech when anyone dares try to give them constructive criticism. Everyone needs criticism, and you need to learn how to take it. I can't calculate how helpful my critique partners have been to me, and I'm proud to say I've helped out a few myself. Your prose isn't perfect, my prose isn't perfect, even Hemingway's and King's prose isn't perfect (although Hemingway comes damn close) so try to look at your work with an objective eye.

And rewrite. I met a guy a few months back who insisted that anyone who can't come out with perfect prose in the first draft isn't a real writer. Nonsense. Even Kerouac rewrote. The story of him pounding out On the Road straight onto the page is only partially true. Yes, he wrote it all in one long, benzedrine and booze-fueled week, but he had carefully planned out the entire book in his head in the preceding months. And the final published version is very different than what he wrote.

Writing means work, realism, and a dose of humility, even for the big names.

So keep at it, fellow writers. You're special, but you're not perfect.


Ashley Ladd said...

How true. I've rewritten one of my wips several times now and am getting ready to edit again.

We all have to start somewhere, and as I keep telling my kids, practice makes perfect (at least much better.) :)

Sean McLachlan said...

I find the editing takes longer than the initial writing, often much longer. Keep at it, persistence pays off!

Roberta said...

I don't think the self-editing ever stops. Not only must we writers put our hearts into our books, but our souls melt into the proposals.

Annie Melton said...

And even Hemmingway wasn't shy about his opinion on the status of the first draft of anything :-)

Annie Melton

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