3.15.2007

Give me a f/ing break

Miss Snark,

I wanted to say that I love your site. Your advice is wonderful.

The only thing that gets frustrating for me is that you have so many dos and don'ts and you are so upset and outraged if a writer slips up, even in the tiniest of ways, that it's almost like you want to create robot writers. And, the thing is, and I say this respectfully, writing is really about passion, feeling and emotion first and foremost... I just hope writers are not scared off by all the stiffness and 'knee jerk' reactions of publishers and agents and so forth.
Yes, there are many rules we must follow, but I hope you'll talk a little about originality and creativity and uniqueness rather than always focusing on all these robot rules... I'd rather not ever publish than become a robot.

But, I must say, you are tops with me... because I know these rules are pretty much part of the game. But, as i say, they're only a game, and they're not really the writing. Because all that really matters IS the writing IN the actual work and not all this other bologny. But, yes, we have to follow it.

Love ya, J-Cakes.


"they're not really the writing"??
What do you think the writing is?
Sitting around, drinking hooch and talking about what a great writer you are?

Passion, feeling and emotion are a glut on the market. Everyone has them. Everyone including Killer Yapp. I can't get you one thin dime for passion. What I can get you SERIOUS money for is well constructed brutally honed solid writing. If you think that compromises your emotions, creativity and originality you're right. Good writing is about making yourself and your ideas understood by someone else. It's entirely original to write nonsense verse. It's also meaningless.

You think a writer just pours words onto paper in a fever of creativity, and originality?
Yea, they do. It's called the first draft. Then comes the writing.

Don't give me one single bit of guff about rules and knee jerk publishing. It's a whole lot harder to do it than feel it.

54 comments:

CM said...

Amen, Miss Snark. Amen.

Christopher M. Park said...

You know, I'd like to point out that these "rules" aren't just rules at all... they are principally observations. This is a Darwinian business, even more so than most, and writers/books with certain attributes (all the things Miss Snark responds with) work best. You don't have to do anything if you want to just "write." But if you want to be published, you have to create something that people actually want to read. People who don't know you.

And the other rules, about not being a complete jerk to agents and editors, or following the rules for making submissions... well, I don't see how that doesn't make sense. You don't complain about having to type your resume and wear nice clothes to job interviews, do you? (Though there are those who seem to prefer crayon or eyeliner.)

Hmm. It always puzzles me when people give arguments like this. I'm all for being free spirited, but there are six billion people on this planet--there's structure to society for a reason.

Chris

michaelgav said...

Well, damn, girl...

"It's a whole lot harder to do it than feel it."

That about covers it for me. Good on you.

Anonymous said...

Yay, robot writers!

We must create!
We must create!
We must create!
We must create!

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Mark said...

And the rules of English which govern these proceedings clearly say, that Bologna is correct and Bologny is not. Baloney would be though, but you grasshopper chose unwisely. The penalty is severe.

Anonymous said...

I cannot stand Isaac Asimov, but he was a successful writer. Reasd his piece entitled "I, Robot."

Waterfall said...

I second those amens from a few comments ago.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark:

Question, please, regarding the statement:

"I can get you SERIOUS money for ... well constructed brutally honed solid writ."

In other blog entries you have told us the best we can expect is pin money. (I read your comments religiously each and every day.) I ass-u-me you are trying to protect us from savage disappointment when we discover the market has no interest in our drivel. But could you elaborate anyway? What kind of money is SERIOUS money? If it is serious enough I will send you some of the most brutal writing ever penned since THE ODYSSEY.

Anonymous said...

I thought the guy was talking about things like...not sending queries to two agents at the same agency at the same time, or not mentioning your unpublished novel in polite company. You know, things that don't have anything to do with his writing.

S.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Chapter 14

"Danger, danger, aliens approaching."

"Oh, the humanity. Now shut up and read those guidelines again. Then put some more passion in your writing so I'll have something better to say."

"Very well, Dr. Smith. It was a dark and storied night."

"Hmmm, not bad, Robot. I like that line I just ghostwrote."

Michele Lee said...

OMG That was beautiful. I am so freakin' tired of people trying to pull me down because I don't "bleed words", because writing is what I work at between being a wife and mother. I am so tired of people telling me that since it's not my life, my only passion, my one true love that I just am not a "real writer". Thank you Miss Snark. That's going to get taped to my writing notebook so that every time I write down the date and reason for another rejection I remember why I'm doing this.

overdog said...

"You think a writer just pours words onto paper in a fever of creativity, and originality?
Yea, they do. It's called the first draft. Then comes the writing."

You GO, Miss Snark. I'm putting that one on my wall (credited to you, of course). Classic.

As anonymous pointed out, it could be the writer was asking about querying and such, and not the particulars of writing itself. Even so, there's a difference between writing for fun (passion) and writing for a living. If it were just about pouring out your soul, hell, everybody would be a writer. But this is business.

Guy S. said...

Oh dear, dear God. Thank you, Miss Snarky. Writing, GOOD writing, is having a passion to communicate CLEARLY, and hopefully, to a wide audience for posterity.

Or at least for a generation or two and a million or two copies.

Michele Lee said...

Anonymous whatever who said "In other blog entries you have told us the best we can expect is pin money."

$5 is a thin dime. I couldn't even feed my family on a dollar menu for that. $5k to $25k, the "industry standard advance" is serious money. Anything that pays the bills instead of just getting me on the bus is serious money. I know I live a little more humble than others might, but even $5k is 6 months on my mortgage, 7-9 months of my power bill, 25 months of paying my grocery bill... It's a new car, it's great birthday and christmases for my kids, it's enough to jump start the promo plans I have, but never find the funds for, it's enough to care for my dog for probably the rest of his life. That is not a pitance to me. That is serious money to most of us.

desert snarkling said...

I am so tired of people telling me that since it's not my life, my only passion, my one true love that I just am not a "real writer".

The thing is, if writing is your only passion, you're not living life and eventually, you run out of things to write about.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, MS. Earlier this week I got slammed after posting the following on a writing loop:

Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. If a writer wants to cross the divide into publishing, he needs to stop thinking of himself as an artist and begin to think of himself as a professional. That means recognizing that his query letter is a business interview, his manuscript is a product for sale, and he's entering into a contract to perform for money.

People responded to my post by saying they were unwilling to prostitute themselves for money.

The last time I looked, EVERY job requires compromises. You have to show up on time, stay your eight hours and do a job according to your boss' specifications.

What I don't understand is why people think writing should be different.

Cap said...

"J-Cakes" is the best red flag ever, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

wow, lots of anger... I agree with everyone about rules... as I said, I agree with all of Miss Snark's advice and try very hard to follow everything... sorry to have upset anyone, but you're making assumptions... I'm not advocating not following the rules or I wouldn't be trying so hard to learn them all and to learn from Miss Snark... and who is pulling anyone down? wow... I didn't say it's ONLY about originality and what's in the novel; I just meant that the actual novel is the most important thing... but, yes, I agree with all of you about all of the other stuff... I always try to dress nice for an interview, etc., and I believe in all of that...

sorry, anyway, ...j- cakes

ChumleyK said...

I interpreted this email the same way the anonymous above interpreted it - a complaint about all the rules regarding appropriate behavior.

While those rules don't directly relate to the writing, I think they make the difference between a "writer" and a "professional writer."

Anonymous said...

"Dear Miss Snark,

I like your site, I just don't like anything about it.

Love, Clueless."

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark - God I love you.

A Dr. recently handed me an emotionally-driven ms to edit that had no scientific facts to support her attempt at a persuasive argument.

She plans to self publish.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like one of those starving artists that might view the huge success that can come from following the rules as "selling out", or "compromising their art".

I had an editor tell me that all of the anal-retentive rules are put in place (unfortunately) to discourage anyone who can be discouraged, so that no one's time (both the editor's and would-be writer's) would be wasted by those who are not committed to not only writing, but also the business of writing. And to the best of my limited knowledge, a writer isn't likely to be successful without learning the business.

Anonymous said...

I will send you some of the most brutal writing ever penned since THE ODYSSEY.

Ummm...she didn't say brutal, she said brutally honed.

I'd say there's a difference, and that difference separates success from failure. :)

Anonymous said...

Funny how people project their "issues" on to others--hear things in what people say that others don't.
I've been reading Miss Snark for two years and the only thing robotic thing I can attribute to her is an insistence on good writing.

B.E. Sanderson said...

"Good writing is about making yourself and your ideas understood by someone else."

Truer words were never spoken.

Thanks, Miss Snark.

Kimber An said...

Christopher, that's an interesting way of putting it. I usually think Darwinism when a 20 year old guy wipes out on a motorcycle, wearing no helmet, and, thus, removes himself from the gene pool. But, it's true. No matter how talented and passionate you are, if you can't follow procedure and persevere you won't be published. I'd say Stephen King is fantastically talented and passionate, wouldn't you? How many times were his novels rejected before he finally published, what was it, CHRISTINE?

Anonymous said...

As my piano teacher used to say when I defended my reading of the piece by saying, "I was playing with feeling:" Feel all you want, but feel in time, damn it!

Anonymous said...

This comment sounds like it's written by another wannabe, another person who could 'no more stop writing than breathing', because 'being a writer is more than what I do, it's what I am'.

He/she will get chomped, chewed, and spit out by the industry unless he/she realizes the days of pouring your passion onto the page and following no rules is long gone.

I'd be sadder if I thought there was anything being lost here.

Elektra said...

"What I don't understand is why people think writing should be different. "

Hear, hear!

Marissa Doyle said...

I also really like Christopher's Darwinian analogy, but see it more from the manuscript's POV--certain books with certain attributes will succeed at certain times/under certain circumstances. Look at the rise and fall of Chick Lit.

Original poster, passion FOR writing is all well and good. But can you focus that passion down into a laser beam and write with that?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the comments in response to my comment to Miss Snark. Yes, I wrote a stupid comment to her. I said it wrong. I didn't mean it in the way everyone is taking it... Dang, what i was thinking is that some of us may be more awkward and may not come off as well with publishers and agents when we meet them, like at meetings. And I was trying to make the point that, even if we're awkward, in the end, it's the novel that matters most and hopefully the publishers and agents will see through the awkwardness. But that doesn't mean I don't believe in the advice of Miss Snark and so many others... I do believe in all that... I KNOW that writing is a business... I've been told that a million times and I believe it. This whole thing about 'passion' stuff got way overblown. I work hard to hone the craft of writing and learn the business. I'm sorry to all of you... j-cakes

Peter R said...

Much as I like, admire, avidly read Miss Sark’s bog, and find it really helpful, J-Cakes is right, agents are middle men/women: they don’t produce the product and they don’t market the product to the customer.

Agents HAVE created a whole world of rules, requirements, and hoops for writers to jump through. I’m sure it helps them handle the high volumes of queries and weed out the duff writing, but in using a structured process to assess a creative art they will miss some great writing. Just because the first line of a query letter doesn’t grab an agent before they bin it or the partial is single spaced on A5 doesn’t mean it’s not great writing, though it may indicate the author is going to be difficult to deal with.

I can break every rule Miss Snark sets and still have produce, by hard work and perseverance, the greatest writing ever seen. It won’t get published though, because it will never get past the gatekeepers of my art: the agents.

To get published I need to play by the agent's rules, tickle their egos, and make life easy for them. I think agents like Miss Snark do a great job, but let’s not forget they are a product of the industry not a necessity of the art.

Anonymous said...

Someone said i'm projecting MY issues... I hear a lot of 'projecting of your own frustrations' here too... I published a lot of scientific papers... i've been through the rope and understand Miss Snark... My comment to her was badly stated...okay? you don't have to go overboard here... I do understand the importance of craft, of being clear, etc. You can't publish a scientific paper without stating a clear and concise case... it's all part of it... j-cakes

Anonymous said...

Kimber An: I usually think Darwinism when a 20 year old guy wipes out on a motorcycle, wearing no helmet, and, thus, removes himself from the gene pool.

I'm sorry, but what the hell does that mean? And if it means what it sounds like it means, then what is wrong with you?

Anonymous said...

Hmm, that "robot" crack rings a bell or two. Any chance you hang out on GaiaOnline there, Anonymous?

Because that place isn't what one would call conducive to the more business-minded side of the industry. Just sayin'.

Marion Gropen said...

It's sad but true that the writing is NOT what publishing is all about. In my experience, publishing is about bringing the right work to the right readers in the right way for the profit of all involved.

And it's sadder and still true that awkward behavior can change how your work is received not only by agents and editors, but also by publicists and the press, and ultimately, by readers.

On a happier note, if you are "all about the writing" and not about the business (i.e. money) end of things, you can proffer your work freely on the web, and leave it at that. Some people, maybe even a lot of people, will read it, without the intervention of printing presses, text or cover designers, publicists, editors and agents.

It's all your choice. But if you choose to try publishing, recognize that you are working with skilled professionals in a very small, and very complicated industry. Of course, there are tribal rules. Follow them if you want to join.

Anonymous said...

J-Cakes-- I feel for you. You have explained yourself several times, and been largely ignored, while comment after comment rails against what you must have REALLY meant. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

People responded to my post by saying they were unwilling to prostitute themselves for money.

So, let me get this straight. Writing for money is prostitution. I guess that makes writing for no audience but yourself masturbation.

But hey, at least it's...passionate.

mai said...

Thanks for this one, too. You are zoned, daily. No matter what, your core shines. Not bk, just the truth.

Anonymous said...

J Cakes, don't listen to these negative commenters, that's just how things are done over here. If you'll notice, I pointed out early on that they were taking your question the wrong way, but did they listen? You just keep doing what you're doing and put this nasty business behind you.

S.

BradyDale said...

Miss Snark, I sort of think you missed the point of how he's missed your point - which ultimately means I agree with you. I think most of the rules you get a "knee jerk" fury at have nothing to do with the writing itself and everything to do with how the writer approaches the agent and manages his pitch. These things have little or nothing to do with the artwork itself. Maybe I've missed the posts where you are rigid about the work itself, but I've seen you mostly get irritated about misfires in the business-side of our work.

jamiehall said...

It's easy to get upset about the rules when you're not published. I know I've had my times when it felt like the entire industry was conspiring against me with nitpicking rules. Yes, I've cried from frustration because rejection letters full of praise just kept piling up, with no real end in sight and no idea why they didn't want to publish my stuff if they liked it so much.

I've even done incredibly stupid things, like self-publishing, because I didn't understand the rules and thought there might be a way around them. Now I'm finally getting to the point where I think I almost understand most of the rules.

When you start understanding them, you realize that things wouldn't really work any other way. You just have to hang on until that understanding comes and try to work through the frustration and anger.

ec said...

J-Cakes-- I feel for you. You have explained yourself several times, and been largely ignored, while comment after comment rails against what you must have REALLY meant. *sigh*

This is inevitable on a moderated forum. Answers are posted when approved, not when written, so there will be considerable overlap.

mike said...

if you think the rules for wrting fiction are tuff, lease don't try your hand at screen writing. screen writing is all about format, format, format because no matter how great your writing is, no one will even look at it if the format isn't the Hollywood standard.

Anonymous said...

Maya;

You might reply to your particular group of heart sleeve bleeders that it's awful hard to prostitute yourself for charity.

kd

Anonymous said...

To Peter r - well said. Sadly, it's the way the business works -- and who knows, maybe the only way it CAN work. But I wonder how many great books are gathering dust because of the gatekeepers. I also wonder if the decline in Americans who enjoy reading a good book is at all attributable to the system.

People used to talk about books at dinner parties - everyone was so excited about books - but they don't do that as much any more.

Sigh - I wonder why?

Michele Lee said...

JaimeHall- I don't think self pubbing is stupid. Doing it because your ms isn't ready and you don't want to admit that is. Or because you don't want to try to make it the traditional way is. But doing it isn't inately stupid.

I do agee with J-cakes on something, not all of us are smooth, well practiced and professional. Some of us can't even fake it. It is hard to remain professional about something you're excited about.

I also agree with the person who said if writing is all you do you run out of ideas. I know a person who is a fantastic writer, but only sends stories to people who are her friends and editors who are friends and who requested a story written by her. She never tries to get things out, to subject herself to someone else's opinion. She also writes the same melo-drama over and over. Beautiful, maybe, but boring.

ME said...

. What strikes me about J-cakes is that she seems to want to know how to find that one guy who will see that she is as great a writer as she thinks she is. Don't we all want to find that special someone? I think most of the books on the front tables of bookstores are crap and just happen to have a pleasant cover. As a former bookseller, I have sold a lot of crappy books. But then again, just one good one makes up for a lot of bad ones. Sometimes, gasp, a good book can change your life!
Since most publishers are looking for books that SELL, SELL, SELL, I worry that my novel isn't crappy enough to sell well. I guess the main thing I'd like to say to J-Cakes is that if you truly believe in yourself, eventually you will find a useful person who also believes in you, likes your writing style, etc.
As for following the rules - Miss Snark seems to only have your (our) best interests at heart, and if she seems Snarky, well, go figure!
BS no more

WandererInGray said...

Writing is pretty much like everything else in life. Passion is good, it's essential ... but if you don't actually work and work hard at it you're not going to get anywhere.

Well said Miss Snark!

docbrite said...

I'm coming in a little late, I realize, but here's Clue Gun Zap #7,930,468: A good agent gets "upset and outraged" on your behalf so that you won't make countless editors feel that way. Most of Miss Snark's allegedly draconian dos and don'ts are just plain old publishing common sense.

jamiehall said...

Answer to Michelle Lee:

It isn't inherently stupid, but it was stupid in my case. I'm pretty sure that my book was getting rejected because it was unfinished. I should have just waited. Also, at that time I was convinced that you needed real publication credits to get an agent. I didn't even try to get an agent on that book because of my belief.

Later, with a different book, I had gotten to the point where I realized that agents don't require you to amass publication credits first, but I still hadn't figured out that they didn't want to be queried about unfinished books.

Now, I'm finally starting to get it. Wait until you have a finished project, then query. Which means I probably won't start querying until about 6 months from now.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but what the hell does that mean? And if it means what it sounds like it means, then what is wrong with you?

Just to get this out of the way... On the Origin of Species is a famous book written by amateur scientist Charles Darwin. In it, he lays out the basis for what would be called the theory of evolution. It's a bit rough by modern standards but in essence it states that certain traits will make a mate more appealing and ensure the survival of their genes. In modern parlance when someone does something foolish or reckless and dies as a result, they have been "Darwined," indicating that their genes will not be passed on as a direct result of their actions. Examples can be motorcycle without a helmet, watching television in the bathtub, most extreme sports, and anything, such as seeking sexual pleasure from a machine not designed for the purpose, which removes your ability to breed without actually killing you.

Anonymous said...

Kimber An - "Carrie" was AFAIK the first novel Stephen King submitted, ever; and it got published. There were short stories before that, though. But I agree about passion.

Anonymous said...

Virgil wrote the Aeneid at the rate of a line or two a day and wanted it burnt at his death; Flaubert and Proust were obsessive revisers. But then there's "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man, Down to a sunless sea..." (poured out on the page by the pharmaceutically enhanced Coleridge). Hunter S. Thompson never wrote anything better than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Thompson's agent probably did put up with the lunacy, though, because of the writing: if he'd gone elsewhere she could still have read his published work, but some other lucky agent would have been getting some of the craziest business correspondence known to man.