Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing what I know

A couple of years ago, when I first discovered that there was this whole vibrant, thriving community of writers online, I found a blog through a link from a famous agent's blog.

I started reading this guy's blog, knowing nothing about him and knowing very little about the career I had chosen for myself a year earlier. I was thrilled to have found someone out there who sits at his computer every day, agonizing over every word, every phrase. Trying to get it just right. Just like I was.

This guy spent much of his blog time dispensing advice on everything from how to write a good query to the proper font to use, to how many words certain genre manuscripts ought to be. I was thrilled. This was more information than I had uncovered in months of reading out-dated books on writing.

About a week after becoming this guy's biggest fan, I went to his blog and he had posted about a certain grammatical rule that I won't go into here, lest he accidentally stumble into my blog and read this and see himself in what I am about to write.

Anyway, he was lecturing his 200-plus followers on this and I thought: Wait a minute. He's dead wrong. What the hell is he talking about?

I say this not because I am an expert on fiction writing -- not by a long shot am I that. No, but I was a journalist for 25 years. A pretty good one, in fact. I won lots of awards. I was a reporter, a regular columnist and was an editor for the last 15 years of my career. I taught journalism and news writing at the college level. I know a little about writing. Trust me.

So, like a good journalist (ahem), I started poking around on this guy's blog. And I learned something shocking. This dude, who spends all of his blog time arrogantly lecturing people on how to be a good writer, how to get an agent, how to write a query, how to format a manuscript, etc. HAD NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED. In fact, even though he had been querying for two years, he hadn't gotten a request for a partial, let alone actually found an agent.

And I thought: Why in the hell am I listening to this guy? Shouldn't I be listening to someone who, I don't know, actually knows what he's talking about?

Now fast-forward to this past Thanksgiving. I started this blog and I decided I wanted it to accurately reflect my quest from newbie to published author (from my lips to God's ear!). But I also made a decision that I wasn't going to lecture people on things I, personally, haven't pulled off yet. So I don't harp on queries, for instance, other than to throw mine out there and whine about how it sucks. Who am I to tell you how to write a query, when mine still sits here fermenting itself on my desktop?

I can tell you that your participle is dangling (how dare you!), but I can't tell you how to find an agent. Why not? Because I haven't figured that out myself yet. I can tell you how to write a good news lede in 25 words or less. But I can't really explain how to write an opening to a novel that grabs a reader by the throat and doesn't let go. Why not? Because that hasn't happened to me yet.

Instead of dispensing advice like Pez pellets, I instead write about my feelings, my fears, my insecurities. I can't write about my success as a fiction writer because it hasn't happened yet.

When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would always tell the truth. I really want this to chart my journey, warts and all. So that when I make it, I can go back and remember how things were on the way up. (I can only hope.)

This is why I no longer follow that guy's blog. The blog friends I have now are very much like me, in that they understand that they are where they are. No more, no less. I like that about each and every blogger I follow. Some are published, some are about to be and others are much closer than I am. I listen and pay attention to what they write, since they are further along on their journey than I am. And those who are where I am, I can read their stuff and chuckle. Because I know exactly how they feel.

I figure if I get an agent, I'll blog about how I did it. If the agent gets me a book deal, I'll blog about that, too. And so on.

But until then, I'm going to stick to what I know best -- my own feelings. It's the most honest thing I know to do.

WORK UPDATE: I revised a chapter and a half today! Whoo hooo. My goal (unrealistic as it is) is to get it all done by a week from today. We shall see.

Have a great night.


  1. I finished chapter 2 last Thursday. I've not even created a file for chapter 3 (I do chapters in individual files). That's four days of ignoring my story, and I feel sloth-like for it. Maybe because -the more I write it- the less I like my first one. Now, if an agent requests pages, I'll be all 'are you SURE?'

    I know what you mean about blog following. I still read Nathan, but don't comment anymore. I still read a couple of editors and agents, still read and comment on Janet Reid, but the rest are writers. Some published, some not, but all writers with the same or drastically different quirks.

    And where is 'Christi Thinks I'm Sexy' ??

  2. I love it that the know-it-all has never been published anywhere! Your goal for getting it all done by next week is great. It must be an exciting (and scary) time in your life. Enjoy it, it's better than being bored!

  3. Um, Christi, I believe I awarded the "Christi thinks I'm sexy" award to MYSELF.

    I'd feel a little, I don't know, weird posting an award I gave myself on my own blog, especially one that implies (wrongly, some might say) that I am sexy. ;)

  4. I sometimes wonder at the proliferation of advice out there, so I usually only listen to what the agents themselves say and take what other writers say with a grain of salt. I think they all have good intentions, but as you've found, many of them just aren't the experts they think they are.

  5. ROFL! Get out of my head man. Mind readers are creepy!

    It's such a weird feeling starting a blog and making posts for people to read when you have that constant feeling of "Yeah, but what do I actually know???" pricking you in the back of the neck.

    That's not to say that earning the mantle of "Published Author" somehow drags you into the "expert" category, either. I've read things by pros that are just as naive/arrogant/plain WRONG as anything an amateur puts out there. (Catching lightning in a bottle is possible, however, trying to give others a step by step path to recreate the miracle will most likely lead to electrocution on their part...)

    Most people go blog hopping to find some kind of magic bullet or that super sekrit word that, if included in a query, will lead to instant stardom. They don't want to hear that writing takes time and/or effort. What they need to hear is common sense (which they'll probably ignore).

    Great post.

  6. Lovely post, Terry. Writing from a place of honesty, plain and simple, is as good as it gets. I've just begun blogging with a group of a dozen writers, all of us working out of the same writing center in Boston, and each time I sit down to write a post (which are about the craft of writing), I try to keep that in mind before I strike a tone. So far columnist-tone has been working best for me, because journalism is my background, too. Check us out if you'd like: Good luck with the book!