Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The Write Way
by Debby Giusti
The eyes of the world have been on Michael Phelps as he swam his way into Olympic history this past week with eight gold medals. A strong and determined athlete, he handled each competition seemingly with ease, making those of us who watched huddled in front of our television sets believe he was born for the gold. Focused on his success, we may have overlooked the years of training—repetitive laps and grueling workouts done day after day, year after year—that brought him to this moment in time.
That same commitment and dedication is demanded of writers as well. Yet some of us may have an unrealistic view of the preparation required for publication and become discouraged when our attempts fail.
People who tally facts tell us most writers complete six to nine manuscripts before they sell. We all know gifted authors who defy the odds and get a contract the first time they submit. Hearing of their success, we naturally equate our own long and labored progression toward publication as falling short of the mark.
I had more than a decade of rejections and hit the brick wall, what I call the plateau, a few years before I got “the call.” At that time, my writing was acceptable but not saleable. Discouraged, I wondered if I’d ever publish.
Sadly, the closer writers come to publication, the more likely they are to give up their dream. A number of my dear friends have stopped writing; others are ready to throw in the towel. The reason? Rejection erodes confidence and self worth.
When editors reject our work, the natural tendency is to back off from the next project. As human beings, we have an innate self-preservation mechanism that tells us to stay away from anything that causes pain. While that serves us well when we get too close to a hot fire, it hurts us when we’re working toward publication.
How do we overcome the survival instincts that may protect us in time of danger but are counterproductive when trying to sell a book? We write. Story after story after story.
By putting words together into sentences that become scenes that grow into chapters, we improve our technique and hone our craft. Just as with athletes, the repetitive exercise of writing and rewriting allows us to eventually understand the essential elements that create a compelling story.
I’ve just completed my tenth manuscript. Three have been published by Steeple Hill, and two more will be out soon—COUNTDOWN TO DEATH in October and PROTECTING HER CHILD in May 2009. My ability to turn a phrase, to make a comparison, to evoke empathy or to heighten suspense has improved with each manuscript.
You’re probably shaking your head and mumbling, so what’s new? And you’re right. Some of the first workshops I ever attended talked about the importance of writing each and every day. But if you’re like me, that advice was hard to put into practice. Three great kids, a loving husband, part-time job, laundry to fold, groceries to buy . . . you know the reasons. In fact, you’ve got your own list of excuses that keep you from writing.
But if you want to break out of the plateau, if you want to move from contest finalist to contest winner, if you want to become a selling author, you have to write.
David Bayles and Ted Orland drive home the point in their book, ART AND FEAR. They tell the story of a ceramics instructor who divided his class into two sections. He told the first group their final grades would be dependent on the quality of their work. They were expected to create one pot that showcased their ability. The grades for the second group would be determined by the quantity of work they produced irregardless of the quality.
To the students’ surprise at the end of the grading period, the quality pots came from the group focused on quantity. Why? Because the first group worked only on one pot, while the others learned through their mistakes, improving as they made pot after pot after pot.
The best advice I could give to a neophyte facing the blank screen for the first time or the PRO close to publication would be to write. The plateau that looms like a brick wall seemingly impossible to break through will never crumble if we become self-protective. Rejection can only be overcome with rewrites and resubmissions and new ideas that turn into stronger stories.
Bottom line, write your way out of the plateau, slush pile, rejection stack, and you'll write your way to the first sale and the second and . . . you get the idea.
Now go write!
Wishing you abundant blessings!
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