You’re trying to juggle a dozen things at once – an unforgettable first line, a fresh voice, an original theme, complex characters, mood and tone and conflict and a sense of mystery, and so on and so forth. In so doing, there’s a good chance you’ve inadvertently lost the most important element of all – clarity.
Once upon a time, I was a magazine editor with an inbox full of pitches from writers and publicists. Many of the senders probably submitted those queries and imagined me waiting for them to come in, reading through each one carefully to decide whether or not it had merit.
Here’s what was really on my mind each time a new pitch pinged through:
Triage. I didn’t come up with this myself. I heard it from the editor Sol Stein, who likens revision to battlefield triage - treating patients in priority order, not first come first serve. For a book, this means tackling the big stuff first. The stuff that is most likely to make a huge overarching impact on the book.
We’re talking about things like character arc, plot, point-of-view, entirely new scenes...
Most people I know have a strong opinion one way or another. I have two strong opinions. First, I think self publishing is of tremendous value to readers, writers, and the publishing field. Second, way too many writers self publish for the wrong reasons.
Here’s what I love about self publishing: It allows writers to find readers, and that’s the point, right? Before the internet and e-readers, the barriers standing between writers and their readers were preposterously high. No other art faced such obstruction.
If you just need a tool to organize a long document, you can change your life in a couple of minutes. Totally worth the investment, even if you never take advantage of all the bells and whistles.
One of my clients is in dire need of organizing a seriously complicated project, so I made these quick screencasts to show him how I use it and how to get started. They’re nothing pretty, but they’ll let you see if Scrivener might help you.
When I was an aspiring writer, I often heard other wannabes bitch about the unfairness of it all. You know the conversation – it’s not about the writing, it’s all about who you know. The only people who get ahead are those with trust funds, who went to Ivy League schools, the types who rub elbows with New York gatekeepers and can slip agents manuscripts over drinks…yadda yadda yadda. Stubborn idealist that I am, I refused to believe them. I’d been raised by movies that told me “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”
Rejection sucks. Writer’s block sucks. Burnout sucks. And yet, they’re all part of the job. Below are some super quick and simple exercises designed to make you feel creative, capable, and alive.
Rejection is a cost of doing business. This is true not only for writers and other creatives but for anyone courageous enough to live wholeheartedly.
You can minimize it by
I spend a lot of time encouraging writers to reach into their hearts and get out of their heads (those inner critics are serious assholes). Only, there does come a time to unleash your intellect. That time is called revision.
These are my own tried and true techniques for revising without getting overwhelmed.
If you're hoping for an easy answer as to whether or not an MFA is worth it, you’re not gonna get it from me. Unlike the ex-teacher who thinks his students suck or the many characterizations of the MFA program as a ponzi scheme, I think their value depends entirely on a student’s unique circumstances.