I sent out four new submissions recently, and I'm looking at sending out my very first non-fiction proposals. I also went to the Lucky Labs meeting yesterday (it seems like forever since I've been!) and had a pint.
I felt like the meeting went well, but then I didn't get my story piled on. It can get tough when there's a consensus, and the consensus is, 'this didn't work for me,' followed by an explanation of everything that went wrong.
Which brings me to abandonment. The thing about writing is, like every other skill, it requires practice. That includes practice of every aspect of writing. I'm sure I'll miss some, but these are basic areas of writing that need lots of practice:
* Spelling and grammar
* Starting a project effectively
* Finishing a first draft
* Managing a first edit
* Receiving/understanding feedback
* Employing feedback
* Deep revision (where no element is held sacred)
* Polishing (also known as line editing)
* Tightening, or loosening (most people need to tighten)
* Establishing voice for a piece
* Establishing authorial style
* Character development
* Enrichment of setting
* Developing a satisfactory middle (muddle)
* Creating a satisfying ending
* Creating scenes with character and plot archs
* Research/life experience development
* Learning about tropes, cliche's, and norms for a given genre
* Developing a narrative flow or rhythm
* Nurturing a critical eye for your own prose
* Nurturing an analytical eye when reading in your genre
* Nurturing and honoring the creation process
These are all difficult skills. None of them are straightforward. For example, spelling and grammar. You'd think that would be straightforward, but it's not. The rules are made to be broken, but they have to be broken in a way that makes reading more, not less, of a pleasure. What about nurturing and honoring the creation process? That's just care and feeding of the muse, right? Not really. Honoring includes respecting your own writing time--daily writing. Nurturing means you have to learn how to create, and then practice creating. Learn about outlines, try different brainstorming techniques, take lots of baths or showers (there's something about hot water and creativity--I'm not the only one who's noticed this!)
Lots of people come out of high school thinking they can write. On the one hand, yes they can. On another ... there's a whole lot more to learn out there, way more than even four years of dedicated college can teach you. The good news is that you can sell your experiments when you reach a certain stage of writing, and that certain stage might be right out of high school. The other good news is, writing never gets boring if you're a writer at heart. There's always something more to learn. There's always another hill to climb.
Which wraps back around to abandonment. You might think that a story that was (almost) universally tromped ought to just be put out of its misery. That depends. Has the author learned everything s/he can from the work? In this case I think the answer is clearly no. I felt that this author hadn't learned how to fix problem manuscripts yet. He hadn't learned how to take and consolidate the feedback, use that to re-examine the manuscript with his own critical eye (the feedback is, after all, a set of observations and suggestions, not a job order) and, if he couldn't figure out how to fix it on his own, start reading and researching like crazy in an effort to find out how other authors have solved those problems.
Think about it. If a story doesn't work and you abandon it every time, yes, you might eventually learn what does work when you line up all the stories you've written that receive positive feedback and write stories just like that every time. But there's a danger of pigeonholing yourself. Maybe all your successful stories are about a young female abuse victim who gets the upper hand over her former abuser and is instrumental in sending him to jail forever. Some writers make a good wage repeating the same sort of story over and over again. I'm not going to denigrate that. But if you can't find that niche and make a career out of that, you'll be a one hit wonder. If that's your goal, great. But if you really want to learn the craft, you have to learn as many items on this list as you can, and some things that are not on this list.
I invite INKers and Friends of INK to think, and even blog about, some of these elements of writing. Each one deserves a post all by its lonely. Or, just file it away, and get to writing. We're wasting daylight, people!
[This article is also posted on the INK faq]