Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Importance of Support

Writers talk all the time about the importance of having a network of other writers to share the journey. Unlike other professions, this one has some oddities that people on the outside don’t readily understand. It helps to have a support system to share resources with, learn from, and encourage us... and vice versa.

Honestly, trying to explain what you’re doing to non-writers is a challenge. You have some major milestone, like getting a full request, or *choir of angels sing* landing that perfect agent who believes in your work. Telling your writer friends means there’s someone to share the excitement and joy. Telling your non-writer friends means a blank stare or worse, a placating smile. Saying things like, “I finished my novel!” is greeted with something like, “Oh, that’s nice. When will it be published?” Which kind of makes you forget you accomplished anything. And frankly, this is a rough business. We owe it to ourselves to be able to bask in the accomplishments along the way, even if they’re not the ones that end in a paycheck.

I think this is why so many writers hide what they do. They don’t tell people in their everyday about their writing, because they’re so often subjected to incredulity. It’s hard to keep going when everyone around you thinks you’re delusional. So, we wait until there’s some major milestone. If we make the mistake of telling people our work is out on submission or *yay* full requests, we then have to tell them, “No, umn, didn’t find a publisher yet” weak smile, every time we run into them... If we tell them we found an agent, they don’t get the significance.... thinking of an agent like a real estate agent you’d hire out of a phone book and not realizing how hard it is to actually get to that point.

Publishing has its own rules. Even writers have a hard time learning them all and it takes a long time of study, trial and error before finally getting over some of the mistakes that scream, “Amateur!!!” Lately there’s been a lot of talk of all the queries bombarding agents and editors. The general consensus is that there are a lot of people recently unemployed and they’re trying their hand at writing. I think there was an immediate urge to say, WTF, do you really think it’s that easy? At least for me... but then I thought, well, damn, go for it. They’ll either learn about their craft and the business, or they’ll get frustrated and stop trying... but the fact that they just now got time to try it in earnest doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not real writers. You have to pay bills. I wonder how many have been writing in their spare time, hiding it from friends and colleagues for the same reason we all hate discussing it with non-writers.

So I say, welcome to the fold. Maybe someone out there is destined to be the next great voice of our time... but they never would have spoken if not for a stroke of bad luck and a worse economy.

How about you guys? What do you think of the influx of new writers? Any stories about your own writing and how your non-writing friends react to it?


Mary Witzl said...

I almost don't know how to respond here, this resonates so much with my own experiences. I once made the mistake of telling a friend and neighbor that I'd just had a request for a full. I was so excited, and she was hinting about what a mess my house was. Her response was just what you wrote: "So when will it be published?" And what could I say? "Um, actually, I don't have a publisher. I don't even have an agent. I may not get an agent. In fact, I probably won't get an agent. But this is a big, big deal." Doesn't sound good, does it? There is no way we can sound like anything but pathetic and delusional losers to those who have not yet gone through the process of writing, polishing, and submitting -- too bad I can't do italics, or I'd certainly italicize 'submitting'.

My oldest daughter cannot see why I keep trying. She just doesn't get it. She's trying her hand at something now, bless her. And who knows? She may even get an agent before I do.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

I am nodding and smiling. Unfortunately, most people know that I write... they even know about my first novel (terrible and should be burned) my second and third attempts (neither finished), my middle grade (finished, polished, submitted, requested and given feedback on... and soon to be revised to submit again), and.... drum roll, my current wip (though most people don't know anything about that one except it's YA and stretched beyond what I've tried before as far as pov and voice)

They also know that I've freelanced articles, copy, etc. The freelancing they mostly understand. They say, "A writer? Really?" with that kind of awe voice.

The fiction, though... another fiction writer looks at that trail of tears and says, "Look at the progress"... a non writer thinks, "So sad... she seems too nice to be crazy"

Ah well, maybe your daughter will understand the perseverance when she's thrown her own prose in the ring.

And you, my friend, will get there.

Erica Orloff said...

As you know from my blog, I usually tell people I am an actuary.

It's just too complicated to explain.

And I find it kind of . . . galling . . . that people think they can just pop out a book without studying craft and putting in the hours--and YEARS. I think it's GREAT that people pursue a dream and great that maybe they have the time to do it (though I am sure they wish it was for different reasons!) . . . but to rush out queries or what have you, without putting in the research time, the writing time, the workshopping time, as if it's simple, something anyone can do? Kind of crazy.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

And I find it kind of . . . galling . . . that people think they can just pop out a book without studying craft and putting in the hours--and YEARS.

Okay, I read that and giggled. I agree, too - especially from my end of things because so many of them aren't serious, some of them don't even read much let alone put in the kind of research we have on current fiction, agents, houses, etc... etc... etc... And they're flooding the agents that I'll be querying, which means more work and less time for them and even narrower chances of getting them interested for me... but I really believe if the work is good, if the writing is there, and if I keep plugging away, then odds be damned, I'll get there.

So I'm trying to look at the bright side. The ones who think it's easy and don't do a lick of work on their craft. Send out queries on novel IDEAS, or generally don't learn anything about professional behavior, they'll either learn or they'll meet with a lot of rejection and stop. But there might be a few gems in there. Ones who've been working for a paycheck but studying their writing in their spare time... ones who've decided to use this downtime to pursue a dream. They're the ones I hope find some support and keep going. The ones who think it's easy because they passed high school English, well, let's not dwell on them.

By the way, E, you are one of my favorite writers because you embody the best things about the supportive nature of writers helping each other. From your blog posts to personal encouragement... plus, you know, you're writing's pretty good too :-)

Gary Corby said...

My reaction to news of the query influx was, "Wow, how did they write all those books so quickly?" Because the recession hasn't been going on all that long. I'm quite impressed.

Might these extra books be the spawn of NaNoWriMo, come to haunt the agents?

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Gary,

Well, I think there's probably a combination of issues - cleaned up nano novels (at least more cleaned up than the queries they got in December), the increase that's been fairly steady because so many people have access to computers and submissions are email, which makes a lot of people more prone to hit query before they should, and then the recently unemployed. Layoffs and downsizing started to really pick up last summer here in the States... I don't think it made national or world news until later than it started.

But I'm hearing there are a number of queries out there for book ideas... and then there are the newer authors who write one draft and never crit or revise...

Don't know. Might be any combination of the above, and then with the downsizing in publishing, there's likely a backlog on submissions from agents and not, because so many editors are taking over more work.

Thanks for stopping in, Gary, and congratulations again!!!

WordVixen said...

A friend of mine just won a First Novel contest- the prize is a contract with Tyndale House (big name in Christian publishing) and 20K.

Me? So excited that I screamed out loud... at my day job... after getting the text (winner was announced at a writers' convention). My husband? Unbearable to live with for a week following. To him, simply because she works from home (she has her own business) and still lives with her parents (obviously had everything handed to her her whole life- despite the fact that she owns 1/4 of all the property and pays 1/4 of all household expenses, and her twin does as well- the twin being a professional freelance writer for print mags & a partner in the business), he sees the 20K as a windfall for someone who certainly didn't earn it, because writing a book obviously isn't that hard. Even though she's spent the better part of 7 years writing and polishing it.

This despite the fact that he knows that I want to be a published author, and that he once considered writing a book until he realized that he doesn't have the right skills. Love him dearly, but he's not the only one who thinks that way.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Wordvixen!!!

So great to see you on the blog... I follow you on twitter, but I miss the discussions in blogland.

First, tell your friend I am happy dancing for her!!! That's great news!

Your husband's reaction isn't that uncommon. Nobody sees the seven years' effort. I mean think about that... even if it was part time, that breaks down to less than three thousand dollars a year... a year!!! That's not a great income. But the problem is, people don't see it as an income, they see it as a windfall... it's not, there was hard work behind that paycheck... ah, well, I don't have to tell you.

I've met a lot of people, nice people, who judge others by what they see on the outside. Usually they're venting their own frustrations, or giving themselves an excuse for why they don't have as much or haven't done the same... "If they had it as hard as me, they wouldn't have gotten that..."

He'll get over it. And really, it doesn't diminish the accomplishment, he just doesn't get to share in the joy of it.

WordVixen said...

Hi Merry! :-) I'm here and read almost every post (though sometimes it's three at once instead of as posted)- I just don't have much to say! Well, I do, but usually totally unrelated to the subject at hand... You know what I mean.

Yeah- the problem is that I can't happy dance around him, because it just sets him off again. I have to sneak off and call my mother who also knows my soon-to-be-published friend so we can squeee together. :-D And I'll tell her! *lol* It's funny, she's such a private person, and suddenly getting all this attention just makes the whole thing all the more surreal to her. I'm loving it!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Wordvixen,

First, thanks for reading :-)... I actually meant I miss your blog - the one I have linked is gone... do you have another one or are you mostly on twitter and other venues?

That sucks that he won't even let you celebrate her success around him. I mean, really, does it take something away from him that she's doing well? And it has to be the payment amount... I doubt he'd be out of joint just hearing she had a publishing contract.

Sorry about that, wordvixen. Happy dance when he's not around... or tell him to stop being such a baby :-) (maybe you shouldn't listen to me, though, my advice is probably not great for marital bliss)