Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Validation Day


When I was 13 I was amongst a group of teenagers for a spell, most of them 2-4 years older than me.  When the time came to part ways, the fond, final remembrance one girl had was, "Well... You're opinionated.  Um.  And sometimes your opinions are helpful, I guess."

At times I like to think that was a wake-up moment for me and my social skills, but the truth is I'm still pretty strong in my opinions and pretty vocal in general.  I'm sometimes afraid that this sounds like, when I'm describing my own perspective on myself, I'm taking a position of general advocacy.    When it comes to a creative endeavor of the pursuit of an individual's dreams, I'm rarely doing that.

One of the things I'm most vocal about is that path I've decided to pursue for publication.  I want to stress that I don't think it's the right or necessary path for everyone.  To that end, I present here four hypothetical case studies of what I consider to be very valid approaches to writing.  There are plenty more, too.

John writes for himself.  He likes to show his writing to others, and he really gets a shot of spiritual energy when readers connect what he's created, but his writing is a creative, expressive exercise.  It's art.  He crafts his words and he doesn't want others to mess with them.  He wants to keep thinking about stories and lofty ideas; he couldn't care less about marketing or promotion.  John writes stories, and has even completed novels.  He doesn't try to publish them, but he enjoys pulling them out and sending copies to new friends, and sometimes he posts some on his blog.

Alice writes for herself.  She loves showing her writing to others, and craves the feedback she gets from readers whether its positive or negative. Her writing is creative and expressive, but it's also about communication of ideas.  It's distributed art.  She crafts her words and only lets a few trusted folks help her adjust those words; in the end, it's still her say.  She does not thrive on the marketing or promotion, but she understands their importance in getting her story out.  She takes her writing projects very seriously.  She mostly self-publishes them, so she control how the words she wrote for herself are presented to the readers she hopes to reach.

Ella writes the stories she wants to write, for readers.  She hopes to make a little money writing and she wants the stories she loved to loved by a lot of other people.  Her writing is creative and expressive, but it's also attainable.  It's popular art.  She crafts her words and then holds her breath as she hands her work over to editors.  She accepts the inevitability of compromise, but she is ready to fight for her own voice and style.  She is willing to work at marketing and promotion,  but she wants broader exposure than just her own efforts can produce.  She approaches her writing in at least two phases -- an essentially creative phase and a more pragmatic phase.  She works with small press publishers, so that she can continue to feel involved in as much of the process as possible but begin to tap into distribution channels.

Nick writes the stories he wants to write, for readers and marketers.  He hopes to make at least a modest living writing fiction, and he hopes that his stories are entertaining for many people, and reach a handful of others.  His writing is creative and expressive, but it's also prepared.  It's popular expression.  He crafts his words, always thinking about how readers will respond to them, trusting in skill plus readability as a formula that pleases marketers.  He views his submitted draft as his creative work and the final product as the commercial product that he and editors produce together, and so tries to be very open to corrections and changes.  He is willing to work at the marketing, but he want to have access to major stores and occasional promotional resources.  He has a cut-throat view of his own writing.  He works with an agent and submits to large publishing houses, secure in his own creativity and willing to trade final control for the broadest possible distribution.

I'm a Nick, but I applaud all the Ellas, Alices, and Johns out there, too.  Long live the storytellers, whatever their path!



  1. Doesn't matter how anybody else writes, you just gotta do what's best and what works for you.

    Good luck on your quest, Nevets, you know I'll be celebrating with you at every point of your success.


  2. I really appreciate how you describe each person without snark or condescension.

    I am probably an Ella.

  3. I think I'm an Ella too. But I wonder if there really are that many Johns? Don't all writers write to be read at least a little more widely? Personally, I find it more daunting being read by friends than by possible publishers; I mind more what they think of me!

  4. Great post Nevets. I think I'm a cross between Ella and Nick. Can you be a cross?

  5. @Bru - Thanks for your support, and you know you have mine, too! :-D

    @Yat-Yee - Ironically, if I were to add any condescension or snark it would most likely be aimed at the Nicks, among whose number I include myself.

    @Frances - I think the vast majority of writers are story-tellers, and story-tellers do want and need listeners/readers. Some writers, though, are artists who use word as their medium and simply need to write to express things and work out their subconscious. They're verbal processors (like me) who need to blab on to really get their inner working sorted.

    Like you, though, I'm way more nervous about the opinion of my friends and family than publishers or editors whom I don't know personally.

    @Anne - I think you can definitely be a cross! As much as I like my neat little taxonomies, I think reality is grades more more than classes.

  6. The thing is, I don't think writers necessarily stay in one slot forever. John might realize he's unhappy with the same feedback over and over and drop writing altogether or at least try to query his work. Alice might make it huge as an Indie and get a huge book deal with Random House and her ego will shoot sky-high. Ella might get tired of the small publisher route and move on to a large publisher and agent after a few books. Nick (and I don't mean you personally) might gain a huge readership with his amazing large publisher (and I don't think getting a large publisher means a huge readership is guaranteed, by the way - most new writers are on the bottom rung, but let's say Nick makes it big) and he decides to go Indie and make millions off his established network. Go Nick!

    In the end, publishing in ANY form takes a lot of courage, even on a blog. I think it's what writers do before publication that really sets their path in motion.

  7. @Michelle - You are so right about writers' not staying in one slot forever. I would find that very unlikely.

    I also agree, that courage is not a distinguishing factor here at all. It's all courageous, it can all be rewarding, and it's all a valid exercise of creativity.

    Furthermore, I agree that there is no equation between a large publisher and a huge readership. I would say that any slot has the same potential for failure or over-achieving, though.

    I think sometimes (and I'm not saying this about you, Michelle, or any of my blog's regular readers) some authors use that "big publishers don't mean big success anyway" line as a bitter justification of their being self-pubbed or with a smaller press. "Why put up with the headaches of a big press if I'm not guaranteed the success?"

    That concerns me. First of all, there's nothing to be ashamed of in be self-pubbed or published by a small press, so I hurt on their behalf when writers feel compelled to make justifications. That's part of why I wrote this post. Every option can be great!

    Secondly, you can fail at any of the other options, too. John's friends may hate everything he writes. Alice may sell books to 5% of her 100-person platform. Ella's small press might fold without putting her book in print. Nick might get in no bookstores and sell books only to a few libraries and remainder outlets.

    There's both risk and potential in any scenario.

    What I'm really trying to stress in my post is that any approach you care to come up with is valid, but you are only going to find satisfaction when there's a convergence between your goals, your attitude, your pathway, your product, etc.

    If you have Ella aspirations, then don't be Nick. If you have John's approach to editors, don't try Ella's path. It all needs to come together.

    And while it's true that in the real world aspirations and outcomes are not the same the same thing, if you don't shoot for your aspirations and believe in your ability to achieve them and therefore work as hard as you can at doing what you need to to make that happen, then you're virtually guaranteed that you will never realize those goals.

  8. You should write the way that you feel is the right way for you, in my opinion; the way that works for your way of personality.

    I think I write like an Alice.

  9. Typo. That's supposed to be just "your personality"

  10. @G'Eagle - In my life I have generally found myself feeling most dissatisfied when I have been fractured in some way. When you try to write in way that doesn't match your personality, I think you're sunk.

    Yay for the first Alice to speak up!

  11. Now Nevets, would your wife be more upset that you were out looking for johns or that you found one?

    I'll claim it. Though with a bit more ambition and a bit less prowess. And a nose that's more earthly than ethereal-oriented.

  12. @B - Not sure; how would your wife feel about you stopping by to be my john?

    And that does sound like a pretty good description of your writing, from what I've gathered. Nice!

  13. I think I have a little of all of them mixed in.

  14. I think I'm Ella too. Also, I liked the name. Ha ha!
    Great post. I think I've come to terms with what kind of writer I am. Probably that's why it took me two seconds to pick myself out of your list.

  15. Great post Nevets, great post!

  16. I write to amuse myself and my girlfriend, and I do have aspirations to Real Art, but I would also like a deal with a Big-6 publisher. That would be nice. But really, the actual goal is to hold in my hand a copy of a novel I have written that's been published by someone other than me. That's all I want. I don't care if I make any money off it. I just want that moment, and to hold the book in my hand.

    I am ambivalent about the idea of "total creative control," because a good agent/editor doesn't leave fingerprints on your work; they help your work become more your own. Everything that's well-written will have a readership somewhere, I think. Saramago and Borges and Houellebecq and Burroughs and Bukowski and Harding and others have shown that.

  17. @Summer - You done been through the juicer! Sounds like an adventure! :)

    @Lydia - It's great when you finally come to terms with what kind of writer you are, isn't it? It's a lot easier to do your writerly things with confidence.

    @Alis - Thanks! :-D

    @Scott - That's a great, healthy perspective to have on your craft. It's where I was until I realized that I felt more at peace with myself doing the crappy parts of writing than I usually did during the exciting parts of the rest of my jobs.

    And you're right about creative control. If you've got a decent editor who likes your book, they will typically not alter it that dramatically. Ryan David Jahn, recently winner of the Dagger Award, recently indicated that's one of the things he likes about novels versus screen-writing: editors want to improve the book in some way; producers just want to change stuff/

  18. I think I'm Nick with Ella's soul....

    Great post!

  19. @TWC - Awesome. It's definitely possible to be one thing in practice, even with something else in your soul.

  20. I think you missed a few important motives.

    1. Delusions of godhood.
    2. Need to pay off gambling debts before chased down by the mafia.
    3. Voices in head keep badgering.

    Maybe we could say this is the reason "Sven" writes.

  21. @Tara - Ah, Sven, sweet Sven. How could I have neglected thee?


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