Sunday, September 13, 2009

Are you a writer?

"What is a writer? A writer writes."

I went to a writer's conference about eight years ago without a book, without articles, without anything to pitch. I had a ball. Because I arrived without pressure to sell myself, agents and authors sought me out, sat next to me at meals, and told me all kinds of things about themselves and the process of writing, exactly what I was there to learn.

I got a fascinating look into the world of writing, sales, and publishing. The professionals showed up to teach and find "the one" great writer of the future. Mostly they were in flight, avoiding flocks of people flogging bad manuscripts. Many would-be-authors insisted over and over, "God told me what to write. I can't change it," to avoid editing. The pros spotted them immediately and closed ranks against them.

A lot of folks apparently think they have the great Western romance novel or ground-breaking leadership manual in their head. She expects a cult following of devoted readers and he intends to transform culture with his great innovation... Except that you have to write well and pitch your ideas to an agent or publisher. After the book is published, they probably expect you to trot it out to sell it.

The pros said producing readable ideas means leaving behind everything that does not add to the story. If the novelette is your "baby," birthed over years of agonized reflection, your heart may break to hear that the creation is deformed or unacceptable. That it's already been done by someone else. It can be devastating to slash and burn through pages painstakingly written.

At the conference, those willing to refine and perfect their writing improved their craft and sold their work. I watched those holding their pages loosely: others came alongside with advice and help. "Keep those rejection letters," said one agent. "They are like gold: if an editor takes time for suggestions, the writing is good enough for revision." (Oops, I had read and tossed those letters as rejections, not recognizing the gift offered.)

I went home and did what writers do. I continued to write. Occasionally, I send off articles, blogs, ideas. Some go into print. Some come back, with or without editorial comments. Some disappear in slush piles. The conference taught me to invite criticism and value the influence of the printed word.

So, are you a writer? How about sharing a well-crafted paragraph or two?

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