Saturday, February 21, 2009

To Hell with "Growing a Thick Skin".

I never understood the "get a tough skin"
or "thick skin" thing. Or rather I've never
been able to or maybe simply never wanted to.
I been at this a while & have no tough or thick skin
yet against the slings and arrows
of either outrageous or fair criticism.

AT FIRST, my blood feels like it's boiling.
I flush and my heart pounds & I start thinking of
revenge fantasies. AT FIRST. So what? It won't
kill me. It passes. My writing is one of the most
important things in my life & I expect to go ouch
on several levels if it's criticized.

And I have plenty of confidence in my talent & my writing.
But I also know that any work can be made better & stronger
& that I have blind spots that others can see clearly.
It's always about the work.

After I burn a while, I see what in there might be useful,
true. Reading & responding honestly & concisely
with a clear eye & a fair tongue is an art that few have down.
If anybody is waiting for the perfect critiquer
to come along before they'll listen, wait
on. A lot of people are uncomfortable giving critques, some are
critiquing lummoxes and either dont know or dont care or like it
that way or cant help it. I can be hurt and enraged AT FIRST and
THEN helped by anybody--when the hurt and anger subside & I
remember it's about the work, the writing, not the worker,
not the writer, not me.

Again, so what if it hurts. Let it hurt. I dont need
to develop a thick skin to protect me from critiques.
I hurt or see red & my heart slams with outrage and even
idiotic shame and I'm ALIVE! and THEN I see if
there's anything there worth taking to heart, worth implementing.

Yes, as others have said, if the clumsy or even mean
critique is the only one saying such&such, maybe it's nonsense,
but even then--maybe it's right. Maybe everybody else is wrong.
Even an oafish moron can see something others don't & help the work.

What every writer who's in it for the long haul has to develop
(besides or instead of a thick skin) is an ability
to discern bullshit, whether it's wrapped in
a Molotov cocktail or in pretty bows.

If you dont have enough confidence in your work
to carry on in the face of criticism, then you need to
develop it, and you develop it by writing, writing, writing
& then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Yes, find a couple people
you trust who won't bullshit you and maybe even know
how to say well what they see wrong or missing or confusing or tepid
in your work, in your writing, or the story at hand.

IF you love writing, and IF you believe in your work
& your talent, then one critique or review or ten, oafish
or refined, wont stop you. It/they might hurt like holy hell,
and set the mind in a feverish venegeful spin, but
it'll pass, and then the simple question will remain: Can I use
this or any of this to help this work or future work?

When I got my ms back from my wonderful editor David Adams
with a thousand remarks, suggestions, questions, recommendations,
criticisms, and everything else you can imagine, big and small,
and all said with the greatest sensitivity, I went straight
to bed and fell into a profound & staggering depression--
for about ten minutes. Then I got up to start at the beginning
& see where I could make the writing & story better.
It turns out he was right 95% of the time, the book
is a lot stronger, and I lived.

So develop a thick skin if you want & if you can
and if that'll help, but know also that it's possible
to keep at this over the long haul with just a normal
human skin & live & dig it all.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Writer's Block?

"There is no such thing as writer's block
for writers whose standards are low enough."
-William Stafford

The first time I read that, I thought it was a joke.
Then I realized it was a very practical insight.

When I'm working on something & I get writer's block
it's just about always something to do with some scene
I'm afraid that I can't write, or can't write good or true enough.

It just happened to me as a matter of fact on a new book.
The problem was with this guy who is organizing a group of people
ostensibly for a good purpose (and also to make a few bucks)
and he realizes he's starting a cult, and now what is he going to do,
stop or continue.

So, per Stafford's quote, I wrote the scene
with the lowest of standards, just as if I were a simpleton
in as simple a language and style as possible, bare bones,
putting details in as they came: an exchange of money,
something ambiguous somebody said, the silence,
the feeling the guy has of his potential power,
a lie he tells as he decides to keep it going
until he can decide if he wants to keep it going--
until I had enough of the bones of a shape of a scene
to build on & play with.

So for me, it has to do with my fear
of a particular important part of the story
I don't want to face for whatever reason, psychological,
creative, and the cure is facing it with no thought
of making it perfect or even right or good or logical,
or anything but a kind of almost idiot's step-by-step
take on the basics of it.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Fear of Finding a Literary Agent (Again).

When I got my first agent, I read sad tales of writers
who had had no success with an agent & had to decide to
let that one go and begin the miserable hunt for another.
I was glad such a nightmare would never happen to me.

And then it did.

I got my my first agent after about 30 queries.
"They" had a "highly recommended" rating at
preditorsandeditors, a number of major deals, no slouch,
but couldn't sell the novel in question, Oranges for Joe.

When I sensed the agent's disinterest in a second work,
and a few cases of, um, miscommunication, I ended the relationship
amicably, and set out across the desert for another agent for
that second work.

After ten queries I got an "intrigued" response from
Michelle Brower at Wendy Sherman Associates. She subtly
urged me to expand what was basically a novella,
which I did.

That turned into Mixed Animal, and a few months
later MacAdam/Cage in San Francisco acquired it. David
Adams was my editor until he was let go in the midst
of our economic situation. I will forever be grateful to
him and his laserly insightful help in strengthening
& focusing the book (despite the fact that I have
withdrawn the book from MacAdam/Cage after discovering,
again & again, that they were not what they appeared to be).

So, my point, or one of them, is that if you're not
happy in your relationship with your agent, and it becomes
increasingly clear that nothing is going to happen with
that agency as far as your work goes, and communications
are breaking down, don't be afraid to pull the
plug (amicably & professionally) and look for another

And, of course, if you believe in your work, as I have
always believed in mine, in the face of absurd odds,
never give up.

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