Monday, February 28, 2011

You Gotta Have Soul

Agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a post on her blog comparing the competition for publishing contracts to American Idol. "The talent here is ridiculous," she quotes one contestant as saying (also the title of the post). Then she goes on to make the analogy about how you don't just need to be talented, you need to be better than everyone else to break into the biz. All that stuff that just makes my confidence fall to zero every time I hear it, especially from an agent.

Then someone who chose to post anonymously (but gave me permission to use his comment) said this:

I am a 50 year old man whose first book is about to arrive in the shops. On the face of it my path to publication has been embarrassingly easy. Was taken on by the agent of my choice overnight on the strength of one chapter, and this was followed by an auction between every publisher my work was sent to (5 of them.)

BUT (and it's a big but) as a young man I dreamed of being a writer. I wrote daily, relentlessly ...and got absolutely nowhere. Finally I put down my pen, and got on with my life. I lived a little, and then I lived a lot. Finally I decided the time was right. I walked out on my job and started writing again.

Which brings me back to the singing competition. Almost anyone can learn to sing - you can go to vocal coaches, you can learn the techniques. But out of that pool of talent, there will be one or two who stand out, because they've got soul. Their voice somehow projects the weight of a human life in a way that goes beyond technique. It's that and only that which will make you stand out from the competition.

I don't know who this person is, but I would like very much to buy him a drink. Because I felt like he was telling me my own story. At least, the "putting down my pen and getting on with life until I felt it was time to start up again" part. The "embarrassingly easy path to publication" remains to be seen.

I stopped writing in my twenties because I realized that I didn't have anything to say. It wasn't until I'd really put myself out there in the world and suffered a while (I know this is a cliche' but it's the truth, dammit!) that I felt I had something to write about.

Now I've got so much going on in my story that it overwhelms me, and I'm afraid it may overwhelm the readers. Good God, my characters suffer! And it seemed like so much sweetness and light at first. But isn't that the way life always is?

This story is emotionally powerful. And that is why I feel it needs to be told. I may or may not get published. It may or may not be easy. But thank you, Anonymous, from the bottom of my heart for reminding me why it's worth writing.

Image courtesy of PD


  1. In mythology, suffering and wisdom always go hand in hand and maturity always comes through experience and hardship. I think the ancients were right. I wonder if I am fortunate or unfortunate to have gone through great suffering far earlier in my life than most. Perhaps both.

  2. Suffering and living through it is what makes us human. What gives us our soul.

    So go for it. There will never be another book like yours out there.

  3. What a great comment from Anon and what an even greater post from you. Never give up, because as you said, your story needs to be told!!

  4. Hi Christine! Found your blog through the SJ Writer's meetup board and I'm not a follower. I know it's discouraging to hear that kind of stuff from agents, but the only thing I can say is to keep going. You'll never know what will happen if you don't at least try!

  5. I am touched that a passing comment I made on a blog I had never visited before should have resonated so much with someone. I hope that my book finds its audience as easily.
    So, thanks for the drink Christine, and my very best wishes for your writing.

  6. A beautiful post and the gentleman was right on, as well. So happy to have stumbled upon your blog and looking forward to reading future postings.

  7. I learn a lot watching Idol. Good singers -- GREAT singers -- get whipped.

    It's that inner voice, the soul, like he said, the umph, the extra twang, the way you sing it, write, that's what makes them stand out.

    There's nothing embarrassingly easy about writing. That he was published by an agent and generated an auction was the result of long hours hacking at stuff he never sent out. There's a lot of pain in Anon's cave, don't let him fool you.

    - Eric


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.