Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bad analogy, good idea

Two Christmases ago, the regular Spades players in my generation of family taught me to play.  We've pulled out a deck of cards at most social gatherings, and until recently, my team has always won.  Sure, my teammate is always more experienced than I am, but I make dumb mistakes.  Not to mention that I'll play with others and still cream whomever had won with me.  I've beaten people in my generation who have been playing for at least a decade, and my parents generation who started playing a good decade before I was born.  Until two weeks ago, I was undefeated, with little skill and nothing to explain it but beginners luck.

I thought of that the other day when agent Nathan Bransford asked why it's so hard to tell if our writing is good.  Writing to me, is like that in a way.  I've talked to a lot of creative people who are natural storytellers, but when you talk about writing, they're so sure they can't because their grammar sucks or they can't spell to save their lives.  And others have gotten beyond that and learned the grammar, embraced word processing with spell check, but hold on to the "I can't" mentality that keeps them from finishing or sending out their work.  (I may resemble that.)  On the other hand, I've searched my soul for diplomatic critiques and some sort of honest encouragement for people--sure that they're the next big thing in fiction--whose work makes me think, "Dude, really?  There's a story in this mass of words and semi-colons?"

OK, written out like that, the analogy is ridiculously thin...

But people from either group can fill in for me, never really sure of strategy, forgetting to count the cards that came before, but applying themselves and kicking ass.  We don't know if we're good...or bad...because there's no real measure.  We can't count adjectives like spades (I got on this metaphor and I'm gonna ride it til the wheels fall off, damn it!) and declare that we're "trump tight."  So some of us sit on creative goldmines sure that no one will like our work while others come up with the lamest excuse for a story and know we'll be the next big thing.

I think we should take a page for the (in their own minds) writing superstars.  They finish their stories and send them out.  So what if an agent or editor doesn't like their work?  The next one will.  Since this is advice that I'm really force feeding myself, sure there will be lots of rejection, but the superstars are on to something. When the boy I feel in love with in college dumped me for a so-called friend because she put out, that was rejection.  I lived through it.  A few dozen, "sorry, this isn't for me" notes could hardly compare.


Angela Addams said...

yes, you are very right. I only takes one yes in a sea of no's to move forward and then you start all over again with editors!

I can't say if I'm a good writer. I suffer from the same critical self-writer-esteem as many others. But I did manage to land an agent and I have had some accomplishments in that's something. I comes slowly for some of us and having patience is one of the most important things. That and the guts to go for it in the first place!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the analogy of comparing 'Spades' to writing. I loved the honesty about what people think about their own writing. It's very true. We never know how good we are until we 'put it out there', and then we find out.
No one likes rejection. It's not pleasant and does nothing for your self-esteem.
I thought this was an honest piece and liked the fact that you said what everyone else thinks about.
I love the set up on your blog page also. Nicely done! :)

Nicole said...

"And others have gotten beyond that and learned the grammar, embraced word processing with spell check, but hold on to the "I can't" mentality that keeps them from finishing or sending out their work. (I may resemble that.)"

You and me both, m'dear... (It's that dratted synopsis.)

Diane Girard said...

It's like being on a seesaw. One day, I think - oh, I've written something good. The next day - ick - it's probably a mess. And I have such a thin skin that every rejection still hurts like hell. I'm ALWAYS trying to toughen up. Then, just yesterday, a friend who agreed to read something for me gave a critique that had no positive words. Ugh! I'm at the, think I'll go and eat worms point. But, I may feel better tomorrow. I sure hope so, anyway.

An Again said...

I've been working on the affirmations from "The Artist's Way." While I might not swallow, "I am a brilliant and prolific writer," that starts to seep in beyond all the negatives and I start to thin, I can be in time.

Julie said...

You are a good writer :) Having read The Hidden, I can say that. I totally get where you are coming from. You've heard my writerly angsty often enough. The writers who make it, make it because they send out queries. It's pretty much that simple.

You've got the talent, it just takes persistence.

An Again said...

...Julie, you've made me speechless.