Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writing for the Brain Dead

There is a quote from an anonymous editor on Flogging the Quill that goes like this:

When I read submission after submission after submission -- which, let's face it, is every day -- my mind starts to dull. My eyes begin to glaze from all the black on white. My butt begins to hurt from sitting. I'm pretty hungry (because I'm always pretty hungry), and this is making me cranky. As the day wears on, I get irritable...

Assume whoever is reading your submission is going to be in a terrible mood when they look at page 1.

You just don't have until page 2.

While I am sure that this is a true description of the acquisition part of the publishing process, I find it somewhat upsetting nonetheless. Is it not the acquisition editor's job to be as fair and objective as possible when evaluating submissions? How much good writing is going to get published if all we are worrying about is keeping editors awake with a flashy hook?

After a while, even saving the world is boring.

What I want an editor to say is, "Give me some interesting characters and a setting I want to stay in for a while. Give me lovely writing that is easy on the soul. Author, take me away!"

Because that is how I like to read. Don't challenge me with blood and guts and Hell-knows-what-else on the first page. I know that I have crafted a first page like that for my WIP, but that's because I'm catering to the genre fiction crowd. I really don't like it that much. It's not who I am. And I hate the idea that I have to be something I'm not just to try and get published.

That's probably why my writing is stalled now. I'm trying to live up to all these expectations and rules. The joy is completely gone.

MY eyes are glazing over from all the black on white. MY butt hurts. AND my neck, shoulders and back. I'M getting cranky and irritable.

I know that I need to just go back to writing the way I used to, with passion and imagination, but I have spent so much time teaching myself how to write for "the market", that I can't figure out how to un-learn it.


  1. I know how you feel. I recently had to chuck all the rule out the window because I wasn't enjoying myself. Seriously, just write what you love and someone is bound to love it too ... eventually.

    And gosh, that anonymous comment IS NOT nice. Surely they know it's not easy to sit for months on end writing a novel and to just be given a one minute chance to wake up an editor up from daydreaming about muffinville? Flippin' 'ell!

  2. This is just so funny you posted on the exact same thing I was just thinking about. I finally figured out why my book isn't getting requests for fulls. My characters don't hate each other. and if I want to write for the market, I have to change the characters. Ugh!

  3. Hooks have become so extreme that I feel like I need to put death, murder, betrayal, a car crash, and have someone be pregnant all in the first page! It's ridiculous. If you read the first page of one of the classics, nothing happens. Nothing.

  4. your post has me shaking my fist at publishers (which i do on a regular basis). you're right. how many good stories don't get published because the editors are looking for what's flashy or popular?

    Tolkien and Lewis and Austen never would have been published in today's market. can't you just see the rejection letters they would get: "We're sorry Mr. Lewis/Mr. Tolkien/ Miss Austen, but your story wasn't exciting enough. No one will ever read your novel. Try again. Give me something flashy and popular on the first page - vampires or werewolves perhaps. Those stories are what the public is looking for."

  5. p.s. - i hope you find your voice again. i like reading what you write.

  6. i don't know. i don't look at what she said and assume i need a flashy hook. I just look at it and know that my page one needs to be the best it can be. whether that means an exciting hook, or fantastic prose, an interesting character or whatever. It just needs to be strong, whatever it is.

    I just don't see what she said there as being "we only want what's popular"

  7. Hooks, schmooks. I roll my eyes a bit when I pick up a book with blood and gore right there on the first page. I do however think there needs to be something special, something unique, something enticing. But I don't think it always has to be shocking.

    Hang in there, Christine. Write for yourself first. Otherwise, you will never be satisfied.

  8. Falen, you are right that she wasn't just talking about a hook. She was referring to good writing. However, the general idea of what constitutes "good writing" seems to have come to mean "high concept" and a strong "hook." Which is also implied in the idea that she's bored, tired, etc.

    I'm very frustrated at my countless attempts to put plot, setting, main conflict and characterization on the first page of my book without stilting the narrative flow.

  9. See I just dont buy into it. No matter what, if you have a well-written beginning it will find a buyer. And by well-written I mean just that - well-written and strong but not necessarily explosions and alien buttsex.

    I understand what the editor is saying but I take it with a grain of salt also.

    I dont write for a market or a specific publisher - I write and then find what suits me. This doesnt mean that i dont look to craft strong beginnings to draw a reader in - I do but that beginning has to be true to me and to the story. trying to write only for a market leads to stale, derivative writing (see Twilight and all its imitators).

  10. I'm with you, C. I am going back to the way I want to write. I got unstuck a couple of weeks ago and am ~enjoying~ my writing sessions, now.

    It's funny that my most marketable work was written when I didn't care about getting published...

    - Eric

  11. The same editor said, "Above all things, YOU MUST BE SPECIAL."

    Well, dang it, I'm worn out trying to be special. How special is special enough? How perfect is perfect enough?

    Is it any wonder that writers are known for being alcholics?

  12. I say, being special is finding and using your unique voice and storytelling skills. No one else will sound like you, or tell a story the same way and you shouldn't want to sound like anyone else just to get published. Remember the writers who got published and are now being emulated are those who stayed true to themselves and their work!


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