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?