First in a few part series…
Eventually, I should really separate out my blog posts. I have rants (those are my favorites). I have mental illness. That is certainly the topic where my little words may make some difference in the world. I have reading and writing. Having separate blogs for each would certainly help readers, and probably increase my readership, but all three are me. I’m mentally ill, I’m a writer, and I go off tilting at windmills…often. There are more facets of me, and even this blog where I strive to live openly and out loud is still a prism I construct for the world to see, but separating out the subject matter would cloud that prism even more. So, welcome to my thought vomit.
Tonight I was asked about the process of acquiring a book deal. It surprised me a little because I think every human I’ve ever met has been informed, by me, that I sold my manuscript. After I paused from congratulating myself again on said deal, I understood that the question was about the how. It is a useful and important question, and I’m certain I am the wrong person to answer it, but I’m going to any way.
So, this is the first in a few part series on this writer’s epic journey from “Once upon a time,” to signing on the dotted line. This is about normal humans aspiring to publish something at least vaguely good. If you’ve come up with the next Fifty Shades of Shit, good on ya. You’ll make more money than I ever will, and you’re not a real writer. It is my thought vomit. I get to make those sweeping judgments.
First, writing is hard. Writing well is fucking hard. Writing something that someone wants to buy requires pain, endurance, and a boatload of luck. I should probably just stop now. That is the quintessence of getting a book deal.
Three years ago, I thought I was a writer. I had a BA from a pretty good English program. I had sold a few stories many years before. I had vanity published a novella. I could spell well. I understood arc and conflict. I enrolled in an MFA program, and I realized I didn’t know shit.
I’ve written here before about my experience getting an MFA. Many have written about the value and benefit of an MFA, or lack thereof. I’m not crawling in that gladiator pit. I will just say one has to learn to write to be a writer. Plumbers have an apprenticeship. Mechanics may begin their new job knowing where the carburetor is. I could form a sentence. The beginning mechanic probably can’t jet that carburetor, and I couldn’t write a novel.
I learned to write in grad school. However you choose to do it, you still need to learn to write. Punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure are not writing. Those are subatomic particles. Character development, tension, setting, or narrative progression are just the tickets to get on the ride. Putting them, and fifty other facets, together in a coherent, cohesive, compelling way is writing. When the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, you’ve written art. If you can get the whole to just equal the sum of the parts, you’re a writer. Any one of those parts executed poorly detracts from your sum. See how the math is against you? Writing well is fucking hard.
I’m a good writer. I’ll say that without apology or modesty. I’m not a great writer. I’ve written things I’m very proud of, published a lot of stuff, but I don’t think I’ve created art yet. There are a bzillion shitty writers in the world. They got an A- in eighth grade English and think they’re the next Wordsworth or Bellow. They never learned to write. They just think they did. I know that is an arrogant statement, and I can’t quantify how to arrive at the end result. Like porn and all art, we know it when we see it.
There are also a bzillion really good writers in the world. (Maybe not a bzillion, but a whole bunch.) They have studied, learned, and practiced. They work at being better writers every day, all the time. Publishing is a business. It is about supply and demand. Supply is about resources and assets and delivery. I heard once that there are 300,000 unpublished manuscripts in just America. There’s the competition to just sell your manuscript. We’re nowhere near the end consumer yet.
So, learn to write. Study and practice. Put ass in chair and words on page, as a favorite professor told me. You and I are both just a couple more sperm swimming upstream. There are a shitload of us, and only a few win. Well, in the sperm metaphor, only one wins, but you get the idea.