Tuesday, February 2, 2010

IOU to the Universe

When you go to writer's conferences, there is a great deal of excitement and anxiety. And here's why: Every person attending the conference thinks*, "This is it. This is my break. I'm going to meet the agent and both editors in attendance, and they are all going to fall at the feet of my manuscript. There will be tears and begging and promises of Best Friendship Forever. We may near the word "auction" thrown around. I am here at this conference, and I Have Arrived."

Sound familiar?

Except, really? Not.

There's some research somewhere that would tell you the percentage of conference attendees who win a contract on the manuscript they bring to the conference, but honestly, we all know I'm too lazy to do that research. So I'll just tell you this: It's not a very big number.

Here's why.

A ton of the attendees at any given conference are bringing a first draft. Do I really need to say more about that?

Of the ones carrying a polished manuscript, many, many of them are first manuscripts. As in, this is my first novel.

WARNING: Here's where this hypothetical-ish blog post turns into a hypocritical blog post.

People don't usually get first manuscripts published. (Just stay with me, please.) Since with the act of writing, we become better writers everyday, it naturally follows that a third novel will be greater than a first, and the fifth will be vastly more wonderful. Paraphrasing several authors' takes on this, a writer needs to write four unpublishable novels before he's ready to have that golden #5 purchased.

At this point, you may be thinking that I got very lucky.

You would be correct.

I wrote a first book that was submitted, agent-free, to a publisher, chosen out of the slush pile, shined up, given a fabulous cover, and published. Then I wrote a second one that was also published (and will be in stores, like, any minute). So, if we're doing the math correctly, here's the thing. I owe the universe something like eight unpublishable manuscripts.

And I'd like you to know that I'm hard at work filling that IOU.

The things I'm writing at right now are bland. Un-spark-ish. Contrived. And it's seriously discouraging. BUT. I know that the exercise is good for me. I'm flexing the writing muscle, even if it goes nowhere. Someday I'll regain my cleverness. I'm certain. And the only way to do that is to keep working on it. Keep flexing that muscle. Keep the words coming, and not worry too much that they're boring or stupid or heartless.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I know, I KNOW that I am not the only one discouraged by the spewing of un-brilliant words. We can't all be on our game all the time. And I want you all to get it -- it's not ON all the time, and that's so totally okay.

Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Scratching. Scribbling. Plotting, dialoging, twisting, charactering. Writing, writing, writing.

The Universe will thank you.

*We really do think it, even if only in a tiny portion of our subconscious. Why? Because we've loved and nurtured and sweat over and lost sleep about this manuscript. It's precious. Like a favorite child. Not that we'd ever have a favorite child. Natch.


  1. I am not sure how I ended up on your page, but I am so glad that I did. I am a fellow writer who has experienced the agony and ecstasy of publishing and writer's conferences. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. Love this. I've never gotten a contract from a conference, but it's still good to go for all the reasons mentioned.

    But you forgot the most important reason of all. Because people might get to meet YOU. So glad we met last year!

  3. I understand this too well. The part about not being on the top of your game all the time. It's taken me six months to produce something decent and I've written every day (but Sunday), but I'm finally getting something that's turning out pretty great.
    I would love to get a contract at that writer's conference in April, but I'm not delusional. Though I do hope you go so I get to shake your hand and see you in person. Either way, I plan on learning a lot and having a blast.

  4. Unbrillant words make me want to cry.

    When I go to a conference, I go to get inspired and hang out with other really cool writers. I gave up the "You're going to be my agent" thing long ago. So yup, inspiration, really cool writers, and a bag of chocolate. Perfect conferece.

  5. I would like to be able to say you're welcome to the universe one day. Maybe I should live life with that in mind.

  6. I don't know that I ever expected to nab an agent at a conference. I suppose that's because I was incredible naiive about conferences and had no idea what happened at one. =P Now I know and right now, I'm just focusing on improving my craft and making my story the best it can be. I'm okay with going slow and steady because I'm determined to win the race eventually.

  7. I have an outstanding IOU, too. I'm so happy I have books coming out next year, but at the same time, I'm already bracing for the day when I go back a re-read my first two, cringing that they're out there for everyone to read. I guess it's good that it'll be almost a year between finishing book #1 and picking it up to edit it. Maybe since I'm writing #3 now, I'll have more objective eyes to use in slicing and dicing.

    Also, I worry because I have a hard time writing just to write. I'm determined to make whatever I produce work somehow and I HAVE to get over that before I look back and realized far wiser authors were right about getting your four crappy manuscripts out of the way.

  8. And sorry for the typos. They rule me today.

  9. Everything you've written here resonates with me because, although I don't write, the same also goes for art, illustration, and numerous other crafty and creative venues, which shall remain un-named here...

    That being said...I hear you...I get it...

    But...I still think you rock, and can hardly imagine that you're writing something sub-par, if even your meager blog offerings are poetry to me.

    I'm just sayin'...

  10. I'm all for being the published minority. Someday I'll get brave and start submitting my very fabulous first novel, but not today.

    And you couldn't be spark-free if you tried. Seriously, if you wrote a phone book, I would read it.


If you want to say it, I want to hear it. Bring it on.