Sunday, March 14, 2010

Persistence Is Not Stubborn


I was going to title this blog, “Maybe You’re Not Good Enough – YET”.  But I didn’t want people to do a double-take on the URL thinking they might have clicked Janet Reid’s Blog.  Sorry, Janet.  I, for one, like honesty and that’s what you bring to this crazy business. 

This month we are offering the best writing advice we can give.  So why the hell am I talking about not being good enough?  It’s certainly not very uplifting.  But for me, my biggest motivation is rejection.  Plain and simple, it pisses me off when somebody tells me my work is not good enough.  And I don’t mean I get pissed off in a bad way.  It’s in my nature to prove that person wrong.  When I’m challenged, I work harder.

I have always said that all the compliments in the world won’t make your writing better.  It’s constructive criticism that is the most valuable of things.

My motivation for my first novel now resides in a five-inch accordion file in my den.  By now it’s buried under piles of office supplies, my to-be-read pile and a copy of Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear.  But, while I was querying they were front and center and forever present.  They stood there on my desk taunting me.  I heard them saying things like, “You’re not good enough.”  “Give up and go home.” 

I suppose some people listen to those rejections and give up.  Those people will never share their writing beyond some friends and family.  If you aspire to be a writer, you’d better thicken your skin.  This is not a task for those with tender feelings.

On the other hand, going back to the Blog’s title, you need to be willing to listen to criticism and use it.  Submitting the same thing over and over again is just plain stubborn.  Sure, there may be a good business reason why a particular agent might not accept a really great manuscript, but if you get 20 or so form rejections, then you might need to work on it some more. 

Before you learn how to write, you need to learn how to listen.

I’ve said that I don’t care for critique groups.  I’ve been in a few and they have failed miserably.  I received conflicting advice, and made changes that I didn’t believe in.  Bottom line, if you’re in a critique group take advice with a grain of salt.  For me, I sought advice from other established authors that I had met and made friends with.  For Jennie Bentley it was Tasha Alexander and for me it was John Lutz and Bobbi Smith.  Some of the best advice I received came from Bobbie Smith’s freelance editor.  I sent her a good portion of my manuscript and got advice.  Is that cheating?  I don’t think so.  She didn’t do any writing, she merely pointed out some things, some very important things.  And after spending an hour telling me what was bad about my story, I asked her a simple question.  “Do I have 300 pages of crap, or do I have something worth working on?”  Her answer was short and to the point. She said I had a great story.  I just needed to learn how to tell it.

So, what’s the best advice I can give?  Listen and be willing accept constructive criticism.  Be committed to making your work the best it can be.  Also, no matter how good you are or think you are, writing is fairly subjective.  Your work can always be better.  Seek qualified help.


PatRemick said...

Great post, but I think the end got cut off.... Love the title of the entry. Good thing to remember!! My word verification for posting this looks a lot like ... determined!

Joyce Tremel said...

Excellent advice, Will.

Rejections always make me work harder, too. They helped me develop the thick skin that is so necessary in the business. At first, it's hard not to take them personally, but writers have to realize that it's NOT personal. It's business--nothing more.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Good morning ladies. I fixed the last line of the post.

I remember a couple of the people I worked with in a local writers group. They talked about submitting 50 or more times and they continued to get rejections. I asked them how they were revising their work and they looked at me like I was crazy. Paraphrased, the comment back was, "This is my work and I'm not changing it. I just need to find the right agent."

That's stubborn.

Joyce Tremel said...

It's not only stubborn, it's downright stupid! On the slim chance that they would find an agent, they're in for a rude awakening when the agent, then the editor asks for revisions.

Laurie said...

Excellent post, Will.

Good to know, my "slightly" competitive nature will come in handy when I start receiving rejections after I've made my first submissions.

Wilfred Bereswill said...


Trust me, I was bewildered as most beginning writers are. It's harder to find mistakes and faults with our own work than in others. You scream, "I KNOW IT NEEDS SOMETHING, BUT WHAT?"

THe best money I spent was on the freelance editor who discounted her price because of my friendship with Bobbie Smith.

Jenna said...

Great post, Will. I just tweeted the link; let's see if we get any visitors!

Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice - accepting critiques isn't always easy. I've got 2 online buddies who are great, but it always comes down to what I think I guess. :)

Alan Orloff said...

Good advice, Will. You're right about needing thick skin--if you can't stomach rejection, you won't be able to take the requisite steps to get your work out there, and without the feedback you get from your work being out there, you won't improve!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Jemi and Alan

Thanks for stopping by. I actually know some writers that would NEVER let anybody read their work in draft form. And some won't let others read their work.

I've developed a few Beta-Readers. I trust their advice in certain areas.

One of the reasons I'm not infatuated with critique groups, is the varying advice I'd get on the same piece of work. One guy who seemed to have the right credentials told me I didn't do a good job on the action scenes. I went back and re-read scenes I remember, like in the Bourne series by Ludlum. I thought I did a fair job, but went about making channges to apease the guy.

I later realized I didn't like any of the changes and put back the original version. While I was in the query process, my editor with H&H told me that my action scenes were my strong point.

So, as you can see, you need to consider advice, but weight it more heavily if it comes from a qualified person.

Patg said...

Ah, the old critique group discussion. The problem, as I see it, is "knowing" if the advice is any good. The only thing I ever learned from a critique group was how to suffer a blood bath.
Mostly they are social gatherings to snuggle in the confines of like minded people and have a few grammar and spelling errors pointed out.
If you are lucky enough to really have someone like you freelance editor as part of your group, then you are lucky beyond imagination. 99% of most groups do not have this benefit.
If you can afford a freelance editor, then why bother with 'the blind leading the blind' kind of group? Sociality, right?
And as far as the 50 rejections go--what exactly did those 50 rejections say? Mostly they only claim 'you don't fit their list' or 'they can't sell it'. What's to change?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Pat, sounds like we're on the same page on the Critique Group front.

When it comes to getting a bunch of form letter rejections, there comes a point where I think we as writers need to read between the lines.

If you've done your research and queried agents that are right for your particular genre, then there has to be a point where you should realize that these "polite" non-descript form letters are telling you something more.

Personally, when I'm in the query mode, I usually send out 10 at the most. Pending those results, I may rinse and repeat. But there's no way I send out 40 or 50 queries without doing some soul-searching and making some significant changes. Now, that's just me.

Lindsay said...

I have a love/hate relationship with rejection letters. I love hate getting them. But it's the nature of the beast that we get them.
You'd mentioned having a thick skin. I came into writing with it and it's served me well.
Everytime I get a rejection it's back to the work to see where I can fix the problem(s). In a couple of weeks I'll find out if I did it or not. If not, I learned. If I did I still learned.
And isn't that what it's all about-learning.
And don't even get me started on critique groups. From my experience they can cause more damage than the fix.

Joyce Tremel said...

The trick with critique groups is finding the right one. I actually belong to two of them. One meets in person, the other one is online. Both are great. And both are for mystery/suspense/thriller writers, which I think is an important factor.

Most multi-genre groups don't work because members try to impose their genre conventions on the material they're critiquing.

Another factor to consider is that most of the members need to be a similar place as far as writing skill. If everyone is a beginner, that's bad. There should be specific rules set up as to how the critiques are done, too.

And beginning writers who join a group need to learn to sift the critiques. They are suggestions, nothing more. On the other hand, if everyone in the group tells you the same thing, you could have a problem.

I trust the opinions of my in-person group implicitly. I've never yet had a critique from them that wasn't absolutely correct. (Thanks, Sandy, Mike, Kristine, Jan, Becky, Brian!) I'm still learning my way around the online critique group. I've only had one critique that was really off the wall. I tossed that one.

Anyone considering a critique group should tread carefully and make sure it's the right one.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Lindsay, Sorry for the late response.

I did environmental audits for 17 years and grew a thick skin in that business. Everyone knows more than the auditor it seems and I was challenged quite a bit. On the other hand I never lost sight of how the auditee felt being told all the things they were doing wrong.

Joyce. Really good analysis of critique groups. Our writers guild tried several times to put together groups; complete with rules and genre matching. Ironically, they did it mostly due to my insistance.

It turned out that there were not enough mystery writers and I was the only thriller/suspense writer. Not a good combo.