Monday, May 28, 2007

One conference, one word

by Mike Crawmer

Writers’ conferences have a rhythm of their own, and the Pennwriters 2007 gathering was no different. It was a chance to renew old acquaintances (thank God for name tags!), escape the household chores and that mysterious leak in the basement, pitch your best-seller-to-be to an agent or editor, and maybe learn a thing or two.

There was a lot of talk in the hall ways, at the meals, and in the Hospitality Suite. The speakers had a lot to say too--about plotting, revisions, how TV shows have made life hell for forensic pathologists (and police in general), the character’s arc, and, as usual, the dismal state of the publishing business (hopeless, yes, but defying logic and reason, still going strong but for how long no one knows).

Out of that cacophony of words one word usually emerges, lodging itself into the brain. For me this year that word came from editor Colleen Sell. In her presentation she detailed what causes an editor to say no to a submission--a sloppily prepared manuscript, the overly aggressive writer, the writer who wants to be the editor’s best friend, and the writer who fails to deliver as promised. That took up most of her hour.

It was when she was explaining what will make an editor say yes to a story that I had my ah-ha moment. A story that is original, engaging, intelligent, and well researched and well told will get her attention. And one more thing--if it is honest.

Honest. At the time I didn’t know why that word struck me so. Now that I’ve had a few days to give it some thought, I have to be, well, honest with myself and answer a few important questions:

How honest am I about my commitment to a “writing career” (stuck in neutral all these years)?
Am I being honest when I tell people who ask how it’s going, Oh, it’s coming along, when I haven’t touched the damn manuscript in three weeks and don’t know when I’ll get the motivation to do what I know I have to do?
Then there’s the more specific aspect of honesty, as in, am I being honest with my characters?
Do I believe in them and the world I’ve created, or am I just playing games?
And what about those future readers? Do I respect and honor them with the words I put on the page, or am I hoping I can sneak a good one past them (and we all know instances where that’s happened)?

I’ve thought about “honesty” a lot in the past week, and know I’ll be thinking about it in the future too. After all, what’s the point of writing if, at heart, you can’t be honest with yourself and your readers?


Tory said...

Something to live by, Mike!

Last week I arrived back at a new position with my old employer. Several people asked, "How's the book?" Oh yeah, I left last year for, among other things, more time to write. And I've spent the year writing websites and blogs, but no manuscript!

It's nice to know that people (not just your friends) remember when you say these things. But as you mentioned, at some point you have to deliver . . .

Gina said...

A friend of mine decided as a child that she wanted to be a writer because "writers are the ones who get to tell the truth." That friend is our Sister in Crime, Cynthia Pearson, whose published books have honestly looked at controversial subjects like death and psychic phenomena.

Honesty is more than adherence to facts -- in fiction, I think honesty requires the telling of a parable. The story should, at some level, reveal truth.

And, Mike, you're being honest when you tell people you are a writer, even if you haven't touched that manuscript in weeks. There is a fundamental difference between ordinary people and writers. Ordinary people talk about writing. Writers write. You write.

Joyce said...

Great blog, Mike!

I think a lot of us ask ourselves the same questions, and if we don't, we should. It's always good to reassess. For me, the big question was, is this going to just be a hobby, or do you really want to be published? Once I answered that question (yes, I want to be published), I quit dabbling and started setting aside the time to write. No more excuses.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I had to be brutally honest with myself this past week about my current manuscript. It was tough and I didn't necessarily like my answers to the questions, but it does help chart the path we're supposed to be following when it comes to our writing. Great blog this morning!

Nancy said...

Great subject, Mike. I liken your discussion of honesty to the way actors look at performance---honesty is what makes a character come alive.

But 3 weeks of not writing? Hell, honey, that's just re-filling the creative well! We need life experiences to flesh out our words on the pages.

kathie said...

Hey Mike, that's a mighty glum post considering what the conference held for you!!!! Am I reading into things? I'm sure your honesty is on the pages or you wouldn't have garnered such praise from interested parties. Seriously, your storytelling voice is what sold you to the agent, it must have reeked with honesty. I missed Colleen's session but it sounds like it was great.