Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cinderella Stories, Six-figure Contracts, and the Hard Work of Writing

New writers don't want to hear about the hard work of writing. They want to hear: "This is your first draft? It's glorious, here's the contract, and how does a six-figure advance sound to you?"

Don't get me wrong. Cinderella stories can and do happen, but more often than not, they're the exception to the rule. And I suspect if you dig deeply enough, you'll find proof those "Cinderellas" practiced their craft for years before submitting their first story.

My point is this. Most serious writers spend months or more rewriting and revising their work before sending it out to potential editors. And in between, they practice the hard work of writing.

Case in point is KM, my work-in-progress. In an effort to discover the true heart of my story, I've written and rewritten this puppy so many times I've sprouted my first gray hairs in the process. But here's the thing: each time I start over, I come closer to writing the story through to its true end.

This is my process. It's one of fits and starts and redos. It's a process of discovery--one requiring patience and persistence as I explore a feeling, image or line of dialogue to learn what it means in the context of my greater story.

One day, I might fiddle with a scene for hours before producing a paragraph's worth of sentences or insights into my characters worth keeping. The next day, I might spend hours writing a decent follow-up scene. The day after that, I might spend twice as much time writing through a draft of a chapter only to set it aside at the end of the day because something wasn't working. The next morning, a bit of dialogue might come to me. Working and reworking it, still not satisfied with its direction, I might realize the chapter from the day before wasn't useless after all. What's needed is a revision, one that gives a hint of the conversation to come. And voila, I'm on a roll, moving forward again through my story.

Though new writers will likely find the realities of the creative process difficult to stomach, it's essential they fully appreciate it if they hope to be published. The truth is the story I hear most from editors is that the majority of manuscripts in their slush pile aren't publishable. The characters are wooden. Their actions aren't credible. The plotting is plodding. The pacing is off. The dialogue is stilted. The reasons go on and on. These reasons are why I practice butt in chair daily (BIC).

BIC reduces the number of blank-page days, bringing me closer to my story. The closer I am to my story, the more good writing days I have. The more good writing days, the sooner I'll craft a story worthy of catching an editor's eye.

In the end, what matters most is patience, persistence, faith in your process, and the hard work that must be done in order to earn the good days, and, if the timing is right and the story is ready, a contract.