Friday, October 31, 2008

Unpubbed Island

By Erica Vesch
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















  1. Erica this is so awesome.

    What a great spin off article on Seekerville's orginal Unpubbed Island theme.

    The other 7 Seekers here on unpub are still sleeping but I am tiptoeing around withe my morning pineapple juice and my notepad trying to analyze them.

    Thanks for this great post !!!!

  2. What a fun, fun blog, Erica -- I will never look at Gilligan's Island in the same way again!

    And gosh, Tina, so much of "missing the boat" is in the timing -- God's, which is frustrating and comforting at the same time, I think. All I know is the longer it takes and the more rejections you face, the sweeter the sale ... or I should say, the sweeter the sail ... to the mainland!

  3. Erica,

    What a great way to make your points. I have many of the traits of the Professor. But I'm afraid a few of Mrs.Howell's traits are lurking beneath the surface, too.

    Thanks to your gentle prodding, I will work her out of my system.

    Cathy Shouse

  4. Wow, you really nailed us, Erica! LOL! So true, so true. Thanks for reminding us of the pitfalls.

  5. What a terrific Friday post! I'm identifying a lot of my own writing angst among the island inhabitants this morning! This is a lot of fun!

    Congratulations on your contract! I will look forward to reading your work!


  6. Great article, Erica. Maybe we should apply the professor tendencies to our life skills: always see the possibilities, be creative, never stop learning, and always try.

  7. Good morning, Seekers. Yowza, some of you are early risers. :)

    Tina, glad you don't mind me 'borrowing' the Unpubbed Island theme. I had a lot of fun writing the post, but some twinges of OUCH too as I recognized some of my own failings in each of the characters. Is it possible to be a needy control freak who avoids conflict?

    Here I stand as proof. :)

  8. Julie, you are so right that it is God's timing. We can be the most 'professorial' of writers, doing all the right 'things' to pursue publication, but if it isn't God's time, then we have to cultivate a spirit of patience and acceptance. So easy to say, so hard to do.

    God's incubation time for launching His children's dreams doesn't fit any timetable where you can check things off.

  9. Cathy, thanks for posting, and, yeah, I can do the Mrs. Howell thing with the best of them.

    Melanie and Kim, good morning, and thanks for helping make it a good one. I always fear posting a guest blog somewhere and having it fall flat or miss the mark. Seeing your comments has brightened my day.

    CJ! Good morning! You're right. So many of these characteristics aren't unique to writing. Which is good and bad. Good in that I can use them to improve other areas of my life...bad, because that means evaluating and changing stuff...blah...I hate change.

  10. LOL
    I want to be the Professor but... LOL again.
    This was such an interesting post, Erica. Very cute and true.

  11. I read down the list and thought, "I've been Gilligan. I've been The Skipper. I've DEFINITELY been Mary Ann and Mrs. Howell. I've been Ginger only without the bikini body. :)

    Well, no, actually I've never been the Skipper. I don't work that hard at running things. But volunteer-avoidance reflex. But the rest, oh yeah.

    I think this is classic, Erica. You could probably give this as a lesson at a writer's conference.

  12. Oh, and I think I'm being overly Mary Ann-ish in my WIP. I need to shoot at more people.

    More conflict.

  13. I love it!!! Gilligan's Island is something I can easily relate to. Let's see....I must be the opposite of Mary Ann. LOL! If only we could all be the Professor......

    PS. I always wanted the Prof and Mary Ann to get together.

  14. Jessica and Georgiana,

    I loved Gilligan's Island as a kid, and G- I always wanted the Prof. and Mary Ann to get together too. Guess I was destined to write romance. :)

    I wonder if it would better my writing discipline to ask myself "WWTPD?" Can't hurt.

  15. Mary, I've been about everybody on the list too from time to time. Still am!

    I have enough of an inner child thriving inside to GO to a workshop linking Gilligan's Island to writing. Hadn't thought about teaching one. Might be fun!

    And not enough conflict? Yup, it's time for bullets to fly!

  16. Hi Erica -

    Wonderful post! The whole Gilligan Island character analogy paints an insightful picture.


    Susan J. Reinhardt :)

  17. Erica,

    What a clever post. A fun walk down Memory Lane. I loved Gilligan's Island.

    I battle Mary Ann tendencies. An editor used the word "gentle" to describe one of my stories. I'm learning to add more conflict. Once I realized my heroines are tough enough to handle whatever I throw at them, that helped.

    Don't want to admit my Skipper tendencies, but thankfully I've grown since my newbie days when I thought I knew how to write. Three years, three conferences, three critique partners, insightful feedback from contest judges, and a hefty investment in for craft books and great reads in my genre have helped.

    This post was not only fun, it was helpful. Thanks!

  18. I LOVED the comparison of Gilligan's Island to Unpubbed Island! My writer friend that is on the road to publication has acted out some of the different characters Erica mentioned. I may send her a copy of this article, if that is ok, so she can see for herself. If she is familiar with Gilligan's Island it will even mean more sense to her.

    I hadn't done a lot of blog visiting lately but decided to make a run through the ones I drop in on occasionally. To my surprise, it is a Birthday celebration. Congratulations to all of you, I think the job you are doing is splendid!

    If I met you at ACFW conference, Erica, I might have gotten your picture but didn't get a name to send the picture to. I did get several pictures of upcoming authors. I'll have to go back through the pictures now and see if one of your 'no name' faces match this one here. Glad to know about you and congratulations on your book!

    Pam Williams
    cepjwms at yahoo dot com

  19. Welcome to Seekerville, Erika! What a wonderful post. Very creative. No wonder you're a writer, LOL!

    It's awful when you see a little bit of yourself in each character. Makes you think, too. Since I'm one of the Seekers still stranded, I'd better start viewing my mss through the Professor's eyes rather than eyeing those wonderful coconut creme pies : )

    Thanks, Erika!!

  20. Hmm, coconut creme pie. Ruthy? Got any good coffee to go with it??

  21. Hi Erica. Welcome to Seekerville and congratulations on the contract with Barbour!!!! Thanks for the fun and thought provoking post! This would make a terrific article for the RWR if you belong to Romance Writers of America.


  22. What a WONDERFUL post!

    I can see why you're off that island :-)

    I think there's a little bit of all of these types of writers in me.

    I like to learn, am willing to work, never stop trying, but still complain about the rules LOL!


  23. Thank you, Susan!

    And Keli, I am in denial about my Skipper tendencies. Makes me think of how true that country song 'Back when I knew it all' is.

  24. Hi, Pamela,

    You're certainly welcome to pass this blog post on. If your writer friend hasn't heard of Seekerville, send her the link. Seekerville has such a great group of gals, friendly, funny, and encouraging. She'd probably get a kick out reading their antics. I know I do.

  25. Thanks, Audra and Janet. I'm having a yen for coconut creme pie all of a sudden. :)

    I'm not a member of RWA...yet. I've thought about it from time to time. Maybe that would make a good Seekerville post. The benefits of belonging to professional organizations...Beyond ACFW.

    Any takers?

  26. Hi, Pamela T. It sure is nice to know I'm not the only one who found myself with 'multiple personalities' in this list. :)

  27. I always loved Gilligan's Island--every character is so different. But I'm sure the Professor was the one who wrote a book about their experiences after they were rescued! He had the right work ethic for a writer. And those two single girls never distracted him! (He was definitely not a romantic.)

    Thanks for the comparison.
    Donna Robinson

  28. Great post, Erica! I definitely share tendencies with at least The Professor (he was my favorite too) and Mrs. Howell. As to the others, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it!

    And I'm betting Ginger put out a book too (only she probably had a ghost writer).

  29. Erica, what a great blog post idea! Even though I can see some of myself in almost all of the characters, I think the best thing about that show is they didn't stop watching for their boat to come in (and save them). It would have been much easier to whine about being sick, sick, sick or coconuts.:)

  30. I loved Gilligan's Island. too. There is one character that also appears regularly: other visitors. People routinely show up on the island and somehow manage to get back off, leaving the castaways on the island. These people could represent authors who eventually make it or agents who we hope will get us where we want to go, but it never works out.

    Also, since it's Gilligan's Island, there's that longstanding question that every guy has answered at least once: Ginger or Mary Ann. ;-)

  31. What a novel idea, Eria. I love it!

    At the ACFW conference, my time in the bookstore ran from 3-4 and I believe I walked into the ballroom when you were up on stage with the Barbour team. It was my first conf and I had no idea what was going on. And then I read on the Edit Cafe how they tried to 'keep you in the dark'. LOL

    I can read why you were picked.

    Good for you!

  32. Hello Erica,
    What a great post, and thanks for proving what folks have been saying all along - I'm a schizophrenic! Yep, I have many Island personalities. I cracked up at your Ginger analogy and started clicking off people in my head who are Gingers. Then, I stopped. Have I ever been a Ginger? Sadly, yes, but today I feel like Gilligan. I'm off to see what's for supper. What? I have to cook? Well, that just stinks.
    Happy Halloween . . . er, I mean Happy Reformation Day.

  33. Donna,thanks for stopping by. I always wondered if The Professor and Mary Ann didn't get hitched after they finally got off the island. There goes that romantic in me again. :)

  34. Patricia W...A ghostwriter for Ginger! That's great.

  35. Lorna and Walt,

    You're right, Lorna, they never did stop looking for rescue. A good lesson there. Don't give up. It will happen someday.

    And Walt, I put the question to my DH and my son and they both voted Mary Ann.

  36. Thank you, Anita Mae. That was one of the highlights of my life, that moment when they called my name. And they were good about keeping me in the dark. (No comments, Mary. I know I'm in the dark half the time anyway!)

    I can't wait to see who they choose next year. I'm going to be cheering my head off. :)

  37. Carla! Thanks for swinging by. As I was writing the post and mulling things over, I too was mentally ticking off a list of who I thought fit where. Then a gentle nudge (Read smack upside the head) showed me all the ways that I, ME, MOI, was the prototype for the character traits I was writing about.

    Dead humbling, this writing thing, isn't it?

  38. Hi Erica, Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for posting. I never watched Gilligan's Island (we were living in the boonies at the time and this was obviously before satellite television) But I do recognize some of the psychological tendencies. Something to keep in mind as we stroll the beach of unpub island. Thanks again.

  39. Hi, Erica! I'm a little late but wanted to say how much I loved your post!! So fun. And so true. I felt a twinge of guilt as you described each character. :)

    And I'm also a hopeless romantic who wanted the Professor and M.A. to get togehter!


  40. this if good.
    sorry not around much still in adelaide and missing home bad.

  41. I loved reading this...very creative. As one person already said, I can see why you're an author! I think I'm a mixture of all of the characters, but I think I'm most like Mary Ann with a little bit of Professor in me =)

  42. This was hilarious--and oh, so true! I can see how I've been a few of those characters from time to time over the years. Great tongue-in-cheek presentation of some real truths!
    Kristi Holl
    Writer's First Aid blog

  43. Great post, Erica!

    I have tendencies of all of these at one time or another. My true personality is more professorish, but then my other traits get in the way sometimes.

    I'm feeling very Mr. Howell'ish today. Laid back and relaxed, waiting for my ship to come in! lol

  44. A big thank you to all the Seekers for letting me come play with them this week, and to all the folks who were kind enough to comment. I've had the most fun. You've been gracious in playing along with my quirky sense of humor, and you've been a blessing to me.

    Thank you again!