Over the last couple of months, I’ve been introduced in various ways to several new writers. They all had one thing in common—no idea what they were doing, or what it took to be published. In fact, one woman was complaining to me that she had received several rejections from publishing houses because they didn’t like the way her novel was written, but she didn’t want to change her novel to suit their needs.
Meeting these people took me back many moons ago to when I first decided to take my writing seriously. In July 2006, I had one novel that was about halfway finished. Inspired by a co-worker, I had been working on the novel for about six months, but kind of lost steam after I moved from Kansas to Texas and became a stay-at-home mom. However, with the extra time I had on my hands (in what little spurts the newborn baby slept and I didn’t sleep with her), I decided to finish my novel.
The first thing I did was join a novel workshop group on Writing.Com. The Novel Workshop Group was a large workshop, divided into several genres with their own forums. To have your novel on the board, you had to commit to providing one review of another person’s chapter per week. That was doable for me, so I delved on into the Young Adult workshop.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
I honestly don’t remember much about my first review, but I will say that the first few that I received were real eye-openers. Apparently there was a lot more to writing a novel than sitting down and pouring your heart out onto a blank page. It seemed there were stuff like rules and guidelines. People expected you to be aware of character arcs, plot development, setting, etc. I didn’t even know half of what they were talking about. So, I swallowed my pride, absorbed each review, and started doing my own research.
I found blogs by writers and agents. I signed up for newsletters. I went to the store (when I could afford to) and bought books on writing and editing. I found out that I had barely scratched the surface of this crazy world we call writing and publishing. I was merely a very small fish in a massive pond.
One of the most important things I learned was that we should always be teachable. We never know it all, especially in the world of publishing where everything is always changing. Reader’s tastes change, which means what the publishers are looking for changes, which means what we are expected to produce changes. Even if those didn’t change, we would still never be perfect. There’s always something to improve upon.
Which brings us back to these new writers and their frustration with not being able to write the way they want. Is it okay for them to ignore the very things we work so hard to learn and channel?
Of course it is.
It becomes an issue of their goal with writing the story. Do they write for themselves? Or do they write to be published? If they write because they just feel that story needs to be told, and the only people who will probably ever see it are friends and family, they can write however they want. And yes, the people that read their story will probably even gush over how wonderful it is. (Yes, generally what your mom says is only about 5% helpful—she’ll love whatever you write.)
But if their goal is to be published—to have a publishing house offer them a book contract with advances and royalties and whatever else—then they have to learn that their way isn’t necessarily the right way. They have to bend to the will of the man! (Or so to speak) This may mean making hard decisions on characters and plot development. It may mean joining an AA group (Adverbs Anonymous), or taking classes on the basics of writing fiction.
So what is your goal? Or what have you learned about the business or about writing that surprised you?