5.15.2006

Nitwit of the Day-with a morning PS from MS

Divine Miss S,

I read an interview with an agent a few years ago that had a ring of truth. She stated that perseverance was not the key to a writer's success. The logic being that if a first book was rejected, the writer often failed to understand that it's his writing that's being rejected. He might then go on to compose new novels with those very same mistakes.

Some of my friends have numerous novels in a drawer, and I don't want to follow down that path. I would much rather go after a much coveted degree in white water rafting and bartending so I can learn to make a killer Slow Gin Fizz on an inflated rubber raft.

Please advise.

Swimmingly,

L



I definitely advise you to quit writing at once if you don't understand the difference between the pace of imbibing -slow- and that which is imbibed - sloe - fizzy gin or otherwise.

And perseverance is so overrated. I've never ever heard Tiger Woods talk about practice. And Twyla Tharp never ever mentions it in The Creative Habit a book every writer should own two copies of (one for you, one for people to steal).

Yes the idea that perseverance is simply making the same mistakes over and over again is spot on. Thank Dog you mentioned it tonight. Now we can all go out and watch the Film Noir Festival at Film Forum.



post-first round of comments note: please understand that much of this post is what you literate types might call tongue-in-cheek. Please do not write to me and say "Tiger Woods does too talk about practice" or worse "the reason Tiger Woods doesn't talk about practice is cause media types don't let him". In fact, persevere in hunting up a dictionery to look up the word "snarkastic". Press on until you find it.

40 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

Not to mention all those published authors whose short stories were rejected, whose first and second novels and subsequent novels were rejected.

Brady Westwater said...

And the question was - what is irony?

waylander said...

I would like to mention here something that was said to me by the editorial director of a major publishing house here in the UK.
"Two things get you there, talent and persistence."

Persistence without independent evidence of talent is the road to frustration and bitterness.

A.R.Yngve said...

Yeah, J.K. Rowling should have seen the writing on the wall after her sixth rejection letter, and given up writing!
(*SARCASM*)

mistri said...

An author who perseveres with just one book can be worse than one who perseveres with several. While it's easy to make the same mistake over and over, I feel that the more you write, the more you learn - for many people the mistakes will improve.

Back when I had a slush pile to read, I was most frustrated by those writers who couldn't let go of their first book. They'd edit it over and over, resubmitting it after rejection. They didn't seem to understand that publishers (generally) want writers who can deliver more than one title - or that endless rewrites can't save every book.

But yes, writing several bad books without getting or listening to feedback is also annoyingly persevering.

Anonymous said...

"...perseverance is so overrated." I'm going ot have to use that one, Miss Snark -- I mean, just generally, for life. Talk about handy!

Anonymous said...

your snarkiness, this time your snarkasm is not quite readily apparent to the most casual snarkling--you may want to make it clear that you are, indeed, being snarkastic...writers are not all that tuned in to Tiger's practice discipline, you know. some of them may think you're being serious about practice and perseverance...

Anonymous said...

I think that the title "Nitwit of the Day" is evidence enough that the ensuing answer is going to be Snarkastic.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Uh... PLEASE! Ms. Snark doesn't need to plead with the same clueless, irony-impaired fools who she fails to suffer on a regular basis.

It's a moderated comments section. She just deletes them as they appear.

Trust me, she has no problem moderating out comments.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an interesting assumption here: that absent feedback or approval (from agent or editor) we writers just keep writing the same thing and making the same mistakes. The persistence school of thinking would have us believe that we improve just by doing, moving beyond the newbie mistakes. Which is true?

Anonymous said...

If at first you don't succeed, be a loser and quit.

I think Abraham Lincoln said that. Or maybe it was the fat guy from Saturday Night Live.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think you must have competent feedback. In six months I've made strides that I hadn't in three years, all because of my critique group.

Find somebody who will tell you what they really think. How do you know them when you find them? Most of what they say is bad.

From My Pen said...

I just had to go on a "snarkastic" hunt. I really like your flavor and style here. Now from the Urban Dictionary
1. snarkastic

(adjective) a mixture of snarky and sarcastic, which leans even further into the sarcastic realm with a caustic undertone.

I forgot where I found your blog, I believe "ask jeeves" while I was looking for "Editors". Any how I like what I found. Think I'll put feelings in a box and send them somewhere else when I ever get a book finished, before submitting one. :)

pjd said...

Everyone looks for a single anser, and there is ample evidence to support any approach you like to take. We've all heard stories like "I got my book published with my first query" and also "I got published after sixty-four rejections."

The trick is to evaluate the response to your book and react accordingly. One place may say "not right for us," so you persevere and send it unedited to another and they take it. Or you get a rejection and show it to your writing group, and they tell you your main character is flat and your opening is lazy. You fix those and try again.

You can not gain talent through simple persistence, but you can improve if you pay attention and try to see your own writing as others see it. That's difficult without outside feedback (e.g. writing group)--is the scene in your head fully translated to the page?

I would like to agree with mistri, who said, "... the more you write, the more you learn - for many people the mistakes will improve."

I know I have much better mistakes than I did even just a year ago.

HawkOwl said...

The great thing is, if your really are an undiscovered genius, your lame-arse first novel might sell ten years down the road on the strength of your later novel. To wit: The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. Which addresses plagiarism too, actually. She couldn't sell it, because it sucks. After Jane Eyre and Shirley she still couldn't sell it, so she did a major rewrite and sold it as Villette, which sucks arse, but not as bad as the original. She always maintained that Villette and The Professor are completely separate novels, even though the plot and setting are identical. After her death (I think), her executor went on to convince her publisher to release The Professor after all, and everybody thought "hey, this is crap and we've already read this novel."

So there ya go. Persevere by trying different things, not by doing the same lame thing over and over.

mistri said...

heh, though I missed the snarkiness the first time most of what I said still stands. But I should clarify that I don't think *everyone* needs feedback in order to improve/realise mistakes. I just meant you always find the odd writer here and there who writes book after book without ever realising that they are all... just... awful :D

Existential Man said...

"There seems to be an interesting assumption here: that absent feedback or approval (from agent or editor) we writers just keep writing the same thing and making the same mistakes. The persistence school of thinking would have us believe that we improve just by doing, moving beyond the newbie mistakes. Which is true?"

The answer is: Without feedback from somebody who knows more than you do you will, indeed, tend to blindly repeat the same mistakes.

The key here is that perseverance, which tends to have a positive connontation of hanging in there through trial and error, cannot be mistaken for absent-minded repetition.

What we're aiming for is perseverance with awareness where we can use the feedback so that we're not on automatic pilot.

The way this is expressed in the sports world is not "practice makes perfect" but that bad practice makes for further bad habits while good practice (practice with feedback, understanding, and awareness) makes for better performance.

lorra laven said...

Snarkastic: Anything the divine one says that results in projectile coffee-spewing from one's nostrils

bookfraud said...

perseverance is so overrated. kissing butt and connections work so much better, plus they have the advantage of not needing actual talent.

i like "snarkastic," but i like "snarktastic" even better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with mistri who said "I just meant you always find the odd writer here and there who writes book after book without ever realising that they are all... just... awful :D"

I once had an author friend whose writing was just appallingly bad. Really horrible. An example sentence would be "She flung her Prell scented tresses over her Armani shoulder before picking up her yellow polka dotted Kate Spade purse from next to her right foot, settling it in the crook of her left elbow." Then she would fall into a 3 page reverie about the day she bought the purse.

Maybe he could have gotten better over time but he refused to take any criticism or suggestions or writing classes. However, he did produce an enviable amount of pages (like 10 a day while working full time). Yet, they were all CRAP! As far as I know, he is still revising his first 1800 page novel.

Anonymous said...

To Whomever Wrote The Divine Miss Snark,

It sounds like you won’t have that problem. (Two smoothly written paragraphs.) So, keep at it.

mistri said...

my mistakes are better than yours, pjd :p


But more seriously, today I read a novel I started three years ago. Awful. Just hideously bad.

Then the one from a year ago. Still awful, but only moderately bad.

I really hope I can move up the scale to 'only slightly bad in places that can easily be revised' with my current WIP.

Lucy Snow said...

I can't believe Hawkowl thinks Villette sucks.

Villette is so innovative and strange, and such a compelling exploration of genre conventions. It's surreal before surrealism, postmodern before postmeodernity.

If ever a novel deserved to be published.

Elektra said...

Hawkowl: The Professor and Villette--while they both are (ahem) not quite up to Jane Eyre's standards--aren't anywhere near the same work

Anonymous said...

I think Tiger Woods only uses IRONY when his driver or wedge is not appropriate for the distance.

Val Tear said...

It took Edison 10,000 trys to invent the light bulb. Then he got lucky.

Elektra said...

Lucy Snow, I had to throw Villette across the room--too many unbelievable coincidences to make a good book. MAYBE two childhood buddies meet up in a very small, very foreign city. It's a stretch, but, okay, whatever. But then for a THIRD childhood friend to be added to the mix (even forgetting the manner in which they met) is just, well...bad writing...

Lucy Snow said...

I don't think it IS bad writing, Elektra.

Bronte adopts and then repudiates, the conventions of popular genres: the gothic, the sentimental novel, the novel of education.

Of course there is much in the novel that is not realistic--the hallucination toward the end springs to mind. Like All's Well that Ends Well, for instance, the distortion of genre expectation leads to results that are *highly* unsatisfying in terms of the genre being manipuated--that's part of the fun, I think.

Also part of what makes people (me, too) throw the book across the room.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Preseverance with practice. Yes, you keep going, keep writing, but let's hope along the way you're continuing to learn and improve. You keep reading others' novels and seeing what they're doing - look for the foreshadowing, the character arcs, the plot points. Read craft books and learn it. Then re-read your own stuff and see if you can find the same points: character arc, plot points, etc. Just writing and writing and writing isn't that great, no matter how stubborn you are in your determination - you must keep learning as much as you can while you're slamming away at the keyboard.

Then yes, persistence will count - bigtime.

Anonymous said...

Persistence is one thing. Hurling yourself over and over against the side of a mountain is quite another. The truth is, there are some writers out there who will never be good enough. I'm not so egotistical as to assume I'm not one of them.

On the other hand, I *will* keep slugging away at it--for personal gratification, if nothing else--and hope for the best.

Oh, and brady, in the immortal words if Baldric, Edmund Blackadder's dogsbody, irony is "like goldy and bronzy, only it's made of iron."

Anonymous said...

Practice is essential, but I have indeed seen (and read) work from aspiring to be published authors who continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Learning craft takes hard work AND practice to apply it. There are plenty of good how-to books and there and online communities like Compuserve's Books and Writers forum (the best IMO) to help.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Elektra, hate to say it, but I've actually gone through an unplanned meeting with more than one friend in a foreign city on two occasions. None of us expected to meet any of the others. Okay, one happened overseas and the other was in Columbus, Georgia, but that's still foreign. ;)

HawkOwl said...

I don't think Villette is at all "a compelling exploration" of anything, and I don't think it was even remotely meant as such.

It's basically the same tired thing that Charlotte Bronte did in every novel, which is to project her issues with her father onto a partly autobiographical plot, and then turn it around with a bizarre ending wherein the female protagonist (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the author), ends up marrying the older, father-figure man on whom she has a school-girl crush. Villette (and The Professor, which has the exact same plot with a minorly different ending, which is why her publishers thought, like everyone else, that they're pretty much the same) is almost an exact rendition of her life: destitute, shy English girl with no prospects goes to Europe to teach at a school for girls, falls for male authority figure at the school. Except in real life, she harassed the guy with letters even after she left (was booted?), and he was quite annoyed. In the novel, as in all her novels, she gets to marry the guy instead.

It's so puerile and so repetitive as it is, without the added drag of the gothic-romance bit which she put in to glamourize the plot for the second go-round. Gothic romance was already old and tired by then. It's hardly an inspired feat of creativity.

Charlotte is the worst of the Brontes and Villette / The Professor is by far the worst of her novels. For that matter, Jane Eyre gets really lame too, once she meets the obligatory father figure. She should have stuck to the school years, that was the interesting part. The one thing she wrote that was really interesting is Shirley, although of course it has all the same cliches, and Caroline is exceedingly annoying. At least it had a plot that didn't revolve entirely around Charlotte Bronte's life story.

Anonymous said...

As the Brits say:

Patience and perseverance
Makes a Bishop of His Reverence.


(Of course you must say,"perSEVerance," or the rhyme doesn't work.)

Unlike cream, good writing doesn't rise to the top automatically. We do our best, then shove and push like hell.

chidder said...

I agree with everything you say in this post, Miss Snark, though I question your unique spelling of dictionary.

Elektra said...

Shirley had a more interesting plot, but the propaganda got tiring after the first couple of chapters.

Vilette seemed written enitrely to say, "Look! I know French! And by the way, even if they were born here, English people are just naturally better than those God-forsaken Catholics!" In it, though, the older school-teacher guy got away. Perhaps she was coming to grips with her own reality?

Jane Eyre (the writing is just so fantastic) is one of my favourites, but I always have to skip over the part where she inherits a fortune and, miraculously, finds her long-lost cousins to boot (though with my luck Dave was probably on his way to a long-lost family reunion when he bumbed into his two friends :) )

McKoala said...

LOL Elektra and Dave. Just wait until you bump into one another on some lonely moor somewhere in another country.

I'm not thinking American Werewolf in London, I'm thinking Wuthering Heights - not to diss Jane Eyre, which I love, but Emily was the most awsome writer in that family.

I'm with the anti-Villette movement, btw. Slightly crazed stalker tries to make it look good in fiction. And as for Shirley...zzzz, stop with the politics pleeeease...

HawkOwl said...

LOL Elektra, I totally forgot that! OMG was it ever venomous! I don't recall Shirley being annoyingly political. I thought it had some meat to it. Of course I also like Zola so I must be partial to politics. THE thing that stands out as annoying in Shirley was how Caroline finds her mother and then not only addresses her but also refers to her as "Mama" to strangers, for ever. However, it could be taken as a progression in Charlotte's attitude towards the concept of "mother" as compared to Jane Eyre, which is kind of an improvement in the image of herself as a person that she projected through her writing.

That's actually what I really dislike about Charlotte Bronte, not how awful some of her novels are, but how she comes across as a person.

Elektra said...

I always have to laugh when Jane Eyre says that a young lady is dull and has nothing to say for herself, when she (Jane) barely says a word if she can help it--perhaps that's Charlotte's real fault: false superiority.

McKoala--Wuthering Heights???

We should start the Snarkling Book Club

-ril said...

Oh, I love Wuthering Heights.

In fact, anything by Kate Bush...