First of all, thank you to Mary for asking me to guest blog, and second, happy Reformation Day, y’all. Yup, today is the 491st Anniversary of the kickoff to the Protestant Reformation. I always think that’s a much more cheerful way of celebrating October 31st than ghosts, goblins, and gore.
As you know, here at Seekerville, those lovely Seekers still awaiting ‘the call’ from agent or publisher with news of a contract offer affectionately term their circumstances as being stranded on Unpubbed Island, not unlike the castaways from Gilligan’s Island. As a recent castaway myself, I know how long the tenure on those balmy, palm-laden sands can seem. I got to thinking of the types of writers who inhabit Unpubbed Island. (This isn’t specific to the Seekers, but to all writers.) And I realized there are some analogies to be drawn between the characters from Gilligan’s Island and writers waiting on the shore.
The beloved, bumbling, well-meaning Gilligan-type is one sort of unpubbed individual you may have run across. These writers never seem to progress. Just like Gilligan, they fall into the same behavior patterns and don’t learn from their mistakes. Contest judges’ comments bounce off them. Craft books are used for leveling out the uneven legs on their coffee table. The idea of attending a writer’s conference never crosses their minds. This is the writer who turns in work to his critique group faithfully, and every cycle of crits has the same comments pointed out. This type of writer likes to play around the edges of writing, but finds it difficult to progress.
Then there’s the Skipper. Control Freak. That’s all there is to it. This guy likes to be in charge. In charge of his local writer’s group, in charge of his online critique group, his blogging community, whatever. He spends so much time trying to control everyone else, he never actually writes anything. He’s an authority on everything concerning writing. The Skipper was critical of everything anyone wanted to do. I suspect (putting on amateur psychologist hat) it stemmed from his own guilt and insecurities over crashing the Minnow. This type of writer lets his own insecurities turn him into a critical control freak. He lets his need to be in charge of everything keep him from writing anything.
Remember the starlet Ginger? Ginger is one of those unpubbeds who craves the spotlight. It is always all about her. This writer is always in need of validation. She might get this through atta-girls from her critique group, gold stars and smileys from her mother, or even (grinning here a bit) a persistent need to be a contest finalist. This type of writer is very defensive about her work, won’t take a critique from anyone, and constantly rails against the injustices of the publishing world. She moans over the idiocy of contest judges who don’t fawn over her work, and she tends to carp a lot about ‘the RULES’.
Mr.Howell. The Mr. Howell writer is all about expectations. He EXPECTS things to come his way easily because they always have in the past. He spends a lot of time in his lounge chair sipping those cool drinks with the little umbrellas in them and starting every conversation with “When I get published…” This type of writer ignores the fact that writing is hard work, studying the craft takes a lot of time and effort, and overnight successes in publishing are so rare as to be a myth. A Mr. Howell, waits for rescue, waits for publication to fall from the sky instead of actively pursuing it. He avoids studying, reading, learning, and above all, writing. He tries to find any substitute he can for putting his tookis in his desk chair and putting words on his manuscript.
Which brings us to Mrs. Howell. Mrs. Howell always deferred to those around her. The Lovey type Unpubbed is always looking to someone else for ideas. She has so many critique partners, she can’t even remember all their names. So many people have had input on her work that she has forgotten the original story line. She never strikes out on her own, never takes a stand for her work, and has no confidence in her own voice. This type writer often revises the first three to five chapters of her book over and over and never moves on. She would be better off paring down the number of people she allows to look at her work before she has a first draft. She gets mired down with polishing and consulting people and never finishes anything.
Mary Ann Summers (Did you know Mary Ann had a last name? I had to look it up.) This was a hard one to analyze because Mary Ann is potentially harmless. What I came up with for the Mary Ann type character is that she had no fire. She was content to turn out gorgeous coconut crème pies, and to avoid conflict. This type of writer has mastered the craft of beautiful language and stunning descriptions. Her dialogue is flawless, her characters so real they are practically FOUR-dimensional. And what keeps her on the shores of Unpubbed Island? The avoidance of conflict. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should be brawling in the aisles of the ACFW or stirring up fights in our writer’s group. The conflict I refer to is in our fiction. The Mary Ann’s of the writing world have beautifully groomed prose, and no zip. No conflict, no battle to be won, no high stakes, nothing to harm the precious characters she’s created. There is no reason for the reader to worry, no questions burning in the reader’s mind, and no reason to turn the page. She needs to stop coddling those characters and make their lives miserable! Figure out what the worst thing is that could ever happen to her character, then go make that happen. I have a friend who is absolutely FEARLESS when it comes to getting her characters into the most embarrassing situations imaginable. And she confesses sometimes she has to almost look away from the screen while she’s writing because it’s such a train-wreck for her heroine. All she can think is, “I’m so glad this isn’t me.” And that’s what writers want readers to think. “I’m glad that isn’t me.” And “How will they get out of this?” No conflict = no story.
Then there is the Professor. Now, maybe I’m biased, but I always liked the Professor best. He was always working on something. Never saw anything as impossible. He was creative…after all, he’s the one who figured out how to power the battery operated radio using coconuts. What kind of Unpubbed writer would a Professor be? One who never stops learning, never stops writing, never looks at the odds and thinks ‘This is impossible.’ A Professor writer uses all his creativity. He’s a team player when he needs to be, but independent enough to know his own mind. He is willing to lend a hand to others, but values his work-time too. This is the kind of writer who is destined to get off Unpubbed Island someday. This kind of writer doesn’t sabotage himself by poor work habits, or just waiting for something to happen to him with no effort at all.
So, which kind of writer are you? If you’re anything like me, you can see some tendencies in yourself from a few or even all of these characters…but you’re striving hard to be a Professor type. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
Erica Vetsch is a wife, home-school mom, bookkeeper, and writer. She was privileged to receive her first contract at the 2008 ACFW Conference in front of 500 writers. The Bartered Bride releases from Barbour’s Heartsong Presents in November 2009. To learn more about Erica, visit her website at www.onthewritepath.blogspot.com/
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