Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I'm looking for help so early

There was a debate yesterday at Nathan Bransford's blog about whether or not writers should seek advice about representation for their first book. The assumption one poster made was that you have to write 10-12 books before you can be considered a real writer, and that if you are hanging out on agent blogs, you aren't really serious about doing the hard work of getting your novel written. I came in late to the discussion, but wanted to put my comment up here for your perusal:

Not to stir up the old debate here, but I have an observation about the whole "writing lots of books before looking for agenting advice" thing. Perhaps this will explain to certain posters why people like me are doing what we are doing - i.e. looking for lots of advice while working on our first (or nearly first) manuscript.

I am almost 39. I have been writing stories since I was a kid, and attempted a couple of novels before this one. My English teachers always told me I was very talented.

But, I also have technical skills and stopped writing in order to pursue an M.S., get a job in a technical field (clinical research), get married, stay married, and have a child with medical issues. My life has been hectic, to say the least.

But now I am teaching part-time and finding that the lid on Pandora's box won't stay shut any more. I have to pursue my dream or die.

But I am writing in isolation. I know no one else who writes, I am not hanging around literary types, I teach math and statistics all day, and I married a guy who doesn't even like to read. So the Internet is my only connection with other writers and with the publishing world.

As well, EVERY SINGLE article, speaker or author about writing says that you have to write what agents want. The very first person I ever heard talk about writing was from some tapes my mom brought back from a writer's conference she attended, and he said that you shouldn't write ANYTHING at all until you've sold the proposal. Otherwise, it's a waste of your time. "Don't write for free," he said.

I found out since then that although this may be true for non-fiction, it is not true for fiction. But, taking his advice, I did craft a proposal for a novel and submit it to a publisher. It was rejected, but she took enough time to send me a letter explaining her reasons and asking for more things from me in the future. That encouraged me to try to find out more and to keep writing.

So here I am... and that's why.

Oh, and, like Laura, I really love THIS book and THESE characters, and want them to have a fair chance at getting published.

(As well as justifying all the time I've spent on this to my spouse.)


Laura Martone said...

Hi, Christine! Since I'm the "Laura" of which you speak, I thought I'd throw my two cents in...

I'm with you all the way!

Obviously, I don't think there's anything wrong with seeking advice, scouring agent blogs, and keeping your eye on the prize while you're working on your first novel. Because I, too, am hard at work revising my first and am determined to see it published... but this is after years of writing short stories, starting another novel (that will hopefully become my second), and having a career in travel writing.

Although I don't relish controversy and rarely jump in when someone provokes me on Nathan's blog, I just couldn't stay quiet yesterday. No matter what that "Anon" said in his/her post about it only being his/her opinion, there was a definite judgmental undercurrent... that someone who only has one novel under his/her belt is somehow less of a novelist. And how could I NOT take offense at such a sweeping generalization!

I even followed the thread to F.P.'s site (she was the one who has self-published 10-20 books and considers true novelists those who have written three or more novels). Although I have absolutely no problem with those who self-publish (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do), she seems to bear a resentment toward the traditional publishing world, and she even believes that Harper Lee, who only wrote To Kill a Mockingbird and had it published the traditional way, is not a real novelist, though F.P. apparently is because she's written so many more. So, in essence, she's being just as judgmental as she accuses the traditional publishing world of being.

Me? I say let's stop wasting so much time on labels. Whether we've written one or a thousand books, we're still novelists - so let's get back to writing! Good luck, Christine, and thanks for the post. I'd discuss it on my blog, too, but after yesterday, I'm just about discussed out... and trying hard to move on (as you can see with this comment, LOL).

Christine H said...

Ah... that background is interesting.

I think also that there are two types of writers. Those with tons of story ideas banging around in their heads, and those with a few ideas which they tend to develop more fully.

I'm in the latter category. Plus, I can't see banging out 20 books just for the sake of doing it.

However, I do think that Anon had a point in that I've spent my entire morning blogging instead of working on my book or anything else!

Laura Martone said...

Teehee. Too true, Christine. In fact, I must flee the blogosphere a little while... in order to reply to emails and work on my, er, travel blog post. How ironic.

wonderer said...

Hi there! I've been here via Nathan's blog before; recognized your handle in the comments and came over to see what you'd been up to lately.

FOR ME, I find that if I start focusing too much on the publishing end, I freeze up and can't make the creative side work, and then I have to go and write something unrelated and purely silly to get it back. So I think there's something to be said for working on the craft for a while before worrying about the other side. Also for me, I find I learn by leaps and bounds with each new manuscript (as I said over there, I have about three that I'll admit to ;-) and I think each one is WAY better than the last), so the idea of doing all that learning on one story is boggling.

That said, if your method works for you, more power to you!