Writing Wrongs

July 23, 2006

This started innocently enough as comments to Marianne’s post today. And then it morphed into something way too long to post in a comment thread, so here it is. She’s debating the merits of essentially how to write. Do we write for ourselves? How do we know something is good enough? Do we consider the market when we write?

I could go on and on about what you should concentrate on during each particular draft, but that’s not only subjective, it’s a whole ‘nother blog entry.

Just so we’re clear on this: Perfectionism is the highest form of self-abuse.

When do we decide when something is good enough?

Not during the writing, that’s for sure. There is nothing wrong with judging your own work, but you need distance. Personally, I think you need a “whole” before you should attempt it. Write the whole story, let it rest, then bring it out to review.

I’m thinking more and more, shutting the door completely during a draft is the best way to write. I posted a scene last week and even though everyone said nice things, it threw me off. I couldn’t write the following scene, because every time I put a word down, I wondered: gee, is that meaningful, does that have depth?

I stumbled across an agency blog (not one I particularly admire, so it didn’t matter) where the agent made the correlation between 50 uninspired queries = writing from the heart. Somehow, if you write what you want to, what your passion is, you somehow aren’t writing something anyone else will want to read.

Granted, there is a fair amount of therapeutic writing being submitted. Writers think if it was cathartic for them to write, well, it must be some good reading. Right? Not always (although sometimes, something comes from this). But unless all fifty of those writers actually said in their queries: I wrote this from the heart, how could anyone assume that was the problem with those stories?

This is another one of those things I don’t understand. Why do writers insist that “writing from the heart” and producing a commercially viable product are mutually exclusive activities? Why would anyone assume that if I’ve written something “from my heart” that I won’t give it a critical review and revise and edit? Why wouldn’t I write the best synopsis I could, and craft an enticing query? Why wouldn’t I be professional when I submit?

If I’m serious about this writing business, and I’ve written something that isn’t hot, or a market trend, or may be a hard sell (say like, women in the military/in combat), why wouldn’t I go the extra mile to ensure what I’m submitting is the best damn thing I can write at that moment?

You can write from the heart and be professional. If you’re a writer, or have read enough writer blogs, you know the journey isn’t always easy, and the destination uncertain at best. Back in ROTC, my third-year cadre advisor had this philosophy:

You can be in a strawberry field, hip deep in mud. It’s raining, maybe even sleeting. You’re wet, cold, and miserable. But, if you really like strawberries, it’s not that bad.

Of course, he was a Ranger, not a writer, but I think the sentiment applies. Figure out what the strawberries are, and it won’t be that bad.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 9:08 a.m.