GENREALITY


January 21st, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Talking About Writing

I have no idea where to start. Seriously.

“Writing” is such a big topic. I could talk about craft — the minutia of plotting strategies, the importance of language, methods of creating characters, and so on. I could talk about process — outlining or not, daily word counts, workshopping strategies, and so on. Then there’s the business — how to get published, how to stay published, what an agent is for and how to get one, what’s the best way to promote your work, and so on. Then there’s all the “meta” topics — what is genre, what separates one genre from another (like what’s the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy?), what are the trends, is it better to write for the market or yourself, and so on.

You see my dilemma. I could talk about writing for hours. Pages and pages of blog posts. So I’m not going to talk about anything practical today. Instead, I’m going to talk about talking to each other about writing.

When people I don’t know find out I’m a writer — not just a writer, but one who’s had books published, that you can find in the local bookstore, and that I pay my bills with my writing — they usually ask a lot of questions. What do you write? Do you pick the covers? How did you get published? Do you get a percentage or what? So you must be like J.K. Rowling, right? (Ha!) These conversations turn into sessions of Publishing 101, as I try to explain the entire industry.

Publishing is opaque and mysterious to people who aren’t involved in it. The average person has no idea how a book gets from the writer’s desk to the bookstore shelf or supermarket rack. A lot of the industry is counter-intuitive to how it maybe ought to work. When I tell people that royalty checks only come twice a year — if you’re lucky enough to be earning royalties, that is — they’re usually shocked. Imagine getting a paycheck just twice a year! And don’t even try to explain the returns system to someone who works in another area of retail.)

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that writers talk about their jobs, to clear away some of the opacity and dispel some of the myths (like the one where we all get paid like J.K. Rowling). But there’s another reason, and that’s the emotional support.

When I was a freshman in college, I wrote a fan letter to my very favorite author, Robin McKinley. Wonderfully, she wrote back, a gracious and chatty note talking about her upcoming book (Deerskin at the time) and such. This letter was a light from the heavens for me. It was a eureka moment. I thought: “Wow, she’s a real person. My favorite writer is a real person. And I’m a real person. So maybe I can be a writer, too!” I needed every little bit of encouragement I could get, and that was a big one. Other real people have struggled and gotten published — I could, too. The bookstore became a temple of hope: thousands of people have written books and gotten published. Why not me ?

This — working as a professional author, and working to become a professional author — is a tough road. You spend most of your time alone, just you, the keyboard, and a finicky Muse. When you emerge from your writing cave, it often involves butting heads with an industry that’s more concerned with the bottom line than with your cherished, hard-fought novels. But in these days of the Internet there’s no reason we have to work in isolation. Often, the best way to accomplish a goal — like writing your first novel, finding and hiring an agent, or getting a book publishing — is to get advice from people who’ve already done it.

If you’re wallowing in self-doubt because you don’t know if you can finish that novel, you’re worried that you should be writing outlines but don’t, you just got your ninetieth rejection slip and wonder if you should give it all up — don’t worry. We’ve all been there. You’re not alone. This is normal, and you’re doing okay.

And that — emotional support and validation — may be one of the greatest benefits of writers talking about writing on a blog like this.

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11 comments to “Talking About Writing”

  1. Joe
    Comment
    1
     · January 21st, 2009 at 10:11 am · Link

    Thanks, Carrie. My book has strayed far from the original idea, and I’m having one of those days where I wonder if I can pull it all together. Your words were good to hear.



  2. Jess
    Comment
    2
     · January 21st, 2009 at 11:29 am · Link

    I agree. I’m amazed when I find writers online who have NO CLUE about the industry but are trying to be published. If they can find other writers to talk to, they should be able to find the basics on how the industry works.

    Also, while I’m not published yet, I wouldn’t be nearly as confident in my writing if it weren’t for the support of other writers I’ve found online, and the invaluable resources of published writers talking about the craft and industry (like Lynn and Alison, whose personal blogs I’ve read for years, and now this one).



  3. Alison Kent
    Comment
    3
     · January 21st, 2009 at 11:52 am · Link

    What Jess said about the invaluable resources online. I once relied on author organizations for the same. Now I’m often a dozen steps ahead of orgs and their email loops in what I know because I’ve learned it by clicking through links on blogs and Twitter and other sites. I often wonder how I was ever published at all with the things I still find to read and soak up about the business.



  4. Marissa
    Comment
    4
     · January 21st, 2009 at 12:48 pm · Link

    If it weren’t for published authors blogging and linking, I’d know nothing about the publishing industry. You published authors are (literally) a light in all this for me, and I can’t thank you enough for it.



  5. Kerry Allen
    Comment
    5
     · January 21st, 2009 at 12:50 pm · Link

    When I encounter those people who insist writers are a cutthroat, competitive bunch, I make a point of asking where they hang out—so I can make sure to never go there.

    I’m constantly amazed by the generosity of authors when it comes to sharing their knowledge and experience online.



  6. R.J. Mangahas
    Comment
    6
     · January 21st, 2009 at 1:24 pm · Link

    Once again you prove a point that I’ve long believed (especially among those who write genre) it really is a great and supportive community. And it’s that knowledge that can get me through those days where I feel like asking myself “Is this writing thing REALLY worth it?” Sure it is!!



  7. Sasha White
    Comment
    7
     · January 21st, 2009 at 1:44 pm · Link

    I agree 100% Carrie. I live in northern Alberta, and there is no local writers chapter. I’m not real fond of most online chapters either, but I have found so much support and inspiration through blogs. I love to read other peoples stories and know that I’m not the only one going though something – good, bad orjust plain old confusing.



  8. Carrie Vaughn
    Comment
    8
     · January 21st, 2009 at 3:25 pm · Link

    Group hug!

    I started out isolated, reading “how to” books from the library, and getting conflicting information. (Like the book that told me there was no possible way to make a living writing fiction. I put that one back.) When I started going to conventions and meeting other writers, people who were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, it was wonderful.



  9. Karin
    Comment
    9
     · January 21st, 2009 at 3:37 pm · Link

    Being able to connect with published authors and other people trying to get published through blogs and websites has definitely made a big impact on me. Like your letter from Robin McKinley, it proves that authors are real people and that they’re very supportive people at that.



  10. Jeff P.
    Comment
    10
     · January 23rd, 2009 at 1:16 pm · Link

    “If you’re wallowing in self-doubt because you don’t know if you can finish that novel, you’re worried that you should be writing outlines but don’t, you just got your ninetieth rejection slip and wonder if you should give it all up — don’t worry. We’ve all been there. You’re not alone. This is normal, and you’re doing okay.”

    Thanks. I needed to hear this.

    Jeff P.
    (fellow Odyssey grad)



  11. Ace
    Comment
    11
     · January 28th, 2009 at 11:27 pm · Link

    “We’ve all been there. You’re not alone. This is normal, and you’re doing okay.

    “And that — emotional support and validation — may be one of the greatest benefits of writers talking about writing on a blog like this.”

    Thank you.

    Always a nice reminder.



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