America’s Got Writing Talent!

Cover of Mystery Novels Magazine, for writers and readers, Winter issue, 1933

Hey, I don’t want to quash anyone’s dreams, far from it. But I have a bit of a rant here for all of you indulging in creative writing. Here goes…

Writing 101

There’s an “i can write/you can write”[1. In other words, "i'm okay/you're okay"] squishy love fest happening across the web that I’m having a hard time swallowing. Everybody and his drunken aunt has decided that, have keyboard, can write! Look at me: I can type the little letters and when I’m done I HAVE A NOVEL! Writing doesn’t work that way. Sorry for the letdown. Lots of people, from my last count about 1.2 billion of them, are all writing and encouraging each other to stick to it! You can do it! Writing is for everyone! And I mean EVERYONE!

Yeah, but:

What happened to talent?

Used to be, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to, well, be good at it. Just like anything else. Being a dancer, being an artist, being a musician, being an athlete. Hell, if some fat, out of breath 70 year old says his dream has always been to quarterback for the Giants, are we supposed to get all warm and fuzzy and say, “Yeah, you can do it! It’s your dream! Go for it!”

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but you shouldn’t go for it.

And it’s not just about talent. It’s about the craft. The study of writing, technique, rules of grammar. And editing until your fingers bleed. Writing is hard work. It’s not for the squeamish or the flighty or those not dedicated.

People have always “indulged” in their whims, to be a musician or artist or writer. Most were dilettantes. Dabblers. Not worthy.

Not that they didn’t WANT it. Of course they did. The writing? Not so much. The fame? Yeah, baby!

Writing the Great American Novel

Lana Turner, around 1940The problem with the dream of writing the “Great American Novel”  is that it used to be everyone’s dream. That’s DREAM, not reality. No one actually did anything about it.[2. It was a dream, get it?] Dreams like one day being in a rock band. Or finding buried treasure. Or being discovered like Lana Turner was, sipping a Coke-a-Cola at the local diner.

These days, with the interweb, self-pubbing, and everyone with a computer and an ego, people are under the impression that what the world needs now is one more novel. Theirs.

Well, you might want to sit down. The world doesn’t “need” your novel. Heck, I can’t even read the books I should be reading: Faulkner, Dickens, Dosteovsky, Hemingway. Let alone all the great published authors of today. Not enough hours in the day, not even on those days when I’m awake for all 24 of them, Jack Bauer-style.

Am I saying you shouldn’t write?  Not at all. Hell, I write and I’m pa-RITTY sure I suck at it as much as the next guy. Am I saying you shouldn’t dream? HELL NO! But I do have a tip for the 99% of all of us typing away on our Macbooks all night long at every Starbucks and Panera in America. And this is it:

Novel Writing Tip #3,716

So here’s my novel writing tip: Stop with thinking that you can make a living at it. About how writing your little novel will make you famous, wealthy, attractive, desired. About how you’re gonna WOW them on Letterman.

Yes, you can go ahead and write. Write ’til your eyeballs explode. People have done it for centuries[3. Write that is, not having their eyeballs explode.] in journals, diaries, and letters. Write for the love of writing, if that’s what you feel you must do. Don’t do it for publication’s sake[4. Although I wish you all the best.], do it for your soul’s sake.

But, please, just don’t fool yourself. And everyone else: stop fooling each other with over-enthusiastic encouragement.

Be encouraging, yes. Be loving.

Just don’t be dishonest.

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  1. Kat Anthony says

    This post gave me a smile. Yeah–anyone who’s been submitting and sending out queries for any period of time knows that the world is not waiting for his or her novel. And of course, with the current low barrier to entry, it becomes all the easier to take a few shortcuts at every level (writing, editing, formatting, etc.) in getting the work out there. With my self-pubbing stuff, I’ve been second-guessing myself at every turn, worrying about whether the work is actually ready or not. I mean, it feels like I’ve been with it forever, but it’s just so hard to know. 

    But, with the current shift, it’s also becoming harder and harder to be traditionally published. I’m hearing all kinds of crazy stories about this, re first time or early-career authors with unbelievable credentials who are having difficulty breaking in, and end up turning to self-publishing on the rationale that readers will ultimately decide. It’s becoming quite the dilemma for writers who want to signal to the world that they’ve paid their dues and are (hopefully) up to some impartial standard with their work. 

    • cplumer says

      Hi Kat,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, the dinosaur of “traditional” publishing is limping, wounded, toward the tar pits. In the meantime, a lot of us with something great, or thoughtful, or original to say may be finding that we’re living in EXACTLY the right era to get read and known. Great time to be a writer, it turns out.

      I know a lot of authors got screwed by the existing, out-of-touch system simply because their first book didn’t do as well as the publisher “hoped.” Therefore, they were considered used goods, pariahs, no longer worth gambling on!

      Can you imagine, getting all the way from dream to reality to be published only to find out it’s WORSE than never being published?

      Good luck to you (and to us all). Here’s to the drive, talent, and hard work (and yeah, good old fashioned luck) that it’s going to take to see our dreams come true in the new paradigm.

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