Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Joys of Being a Writer

I love the picture at the beginning of this post. I hope it has inspired at least a smile. It’s important to keep a sense of humor intact if you are determined to become a writer. This helps you remain sane as you endure the process that goes along with this particular challenge. Incidentally, I came across this poster at an LDS Booksellers’ Convention several years ago. I’m not sure who gave it to me, but it continues to hold a place of honor in my computer room. It reminds me to not take the writing world so seriously. ;)

Most writers see their share of the four items illustrated above. I shall touch briefly on each one.

Drafts: These are crucial. Only the bravest of souls would ever submit the first draft of a manuscript to a publishing company. If you do submit that first draft, you are pretty much asking for the third item shown above: REJECTION. The key to good writing is revision—polishing and streamlining a manuscript until it’s the best that it can be. And then I still send it to a couple of good, honest friends who aren’t afraid to use red pencils. They catch the things I miss. Sometimes I can read a sentence a hundred times, and knowing what it is supposed to say, I may miss a word that isn’t there, or one that shouldn’t exist. It’s funny how our brains will automatically insert or delete words as we read along. It’s important to let a fresh set of eyes read through the manuscript to catch these snafus that will hamper and impair a good manuscript. Drafts are our friend. Say it with me now.

Rejection: Since I already mentioned it, I’ll tackle it next. Rejection isn’t our friend. It makes us feel bad. But sometimes we can make a good manuscript even better when it happens. Or we toss the rejected manuscript into a pile and never look at it again. I’ve done both. In the beginning of my writing career (not too long after the days of horse and buggy) those rejection letters were a source of indignation. How dare (insert publishing company of your choice) not accept my manuscript! How did they miss its brilliance, etc.!!! In way of interesting news, I kept every one of those letters. They now fill a scrapbook I’ve entitled, “The Opinions of Silly People.” =) The cool thing about this collection is that now I have autographs of famous people like Orson Scott Card, Sheri Dew, Lee Nelson, etc.

Since those days I’ve come to know that a rejection letter isn’t the end of life as we know it. Getting a book published is often a matter of connecting with the right person at the right time with the right idea. My first published novel, “Kate’s Turn,” was initially rejected by Bookcraft. It was my sixth attempt at writing a book. I had spent nearly two years writing, polishing, and doing the research for this novel. When I received rejection letters on the first five manuscripts, I had filed them (the manuscripts) in a box, none of them to ever see the light of day again. This time things were different. When I received the rejection letter regarding “Kate’s Turn,” something deep inside wouldn’t let me discard that manuscript. Instead, I went through it with a fined-toothed comb, revised a few items, then I sent it off somewhere else. And six months later, Covenant sent me a contract, agreeing to publish this book. My husband still claims he’s deaf in one ear from the scream emitted by his spouse when we learned the good news. =D

A funny part to this story happened after “Kate’s Turn,” became the number 3 best seller for Covenant in 1994. One day, my husband and I dropped in for a visit at Covenant’s fine establishment. When we met with some of the hierarchy, I was asked to retell the story of how Bookcraft rejected this novel. If I hadn’t known better, I could have sworn Covenant was having a good laugh at their competitor’s expense. ;)

Editing: Cringe, cringe, shudder, shudder. Once again, we learn that nasty medicine is often very good for us. None of us likes to hear that our precious “babies” (manuscripts) are less than perfect. We tend to take comments like these personally. The truth is, an editor can help us improve our manuscripts. They catch things we miss, and offer ideas to fix scenes that need help. That said, there are times when we have to choose our battles. If I felt strongly about the content of a certain scene that was on the chopping block, I fought for it, giving in on another scene that I could live without. Learning to compromise is a key factor when dealing with the editing process. (Remind me I said that.)

Royalites: Someday I would like to know how they came up with this word to describe the money authors receive. According to the definition in my handy/trusty dictionary I’ve owned since my college days, the word “royalty” means to be of royal status, dignity, or power. Down at the bottom of this same definition, it states: “a fixed portion of the proceeds from his/her work, paid to an author or composer.” Interesting. Here’s what I tell people who want to know if they can make a living as an LDS author: “Don’t quit your day job.” ;)

Truthfully, it depends on the book, the way it sells, the economy, etc. I still remember the thrill of receiving my first check. I experienced such a feeling of accomplishment. Then I paid my tithing and spent the rest on son # 2’s braces. =) That pretty well took care of it.

When my second book hit the market, I figured it would do at least as well as the first one. Wrong. It tanked, even though I was told later that it was one of the best books I’d ever written (“The Fine Print”). Apparently, people wanted more books about “Kate.” So a series was born and it did quite well, all things considered. While I never made my fortune, the publication of these books did give our family the resources to take a few family trips. Later it provided the means to help our kids when they started college. It was a way for me to help out with family finances while being a stay-at-home mom, an opportunity I will always appreciate.

These four items are just some of the issues writers get to deal with on a regular basis. From time to time I’ll touch on other delightful items we also face. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey and realize writing is like anything else: if you truly want to be a writer, you’ll put in the elbow grease necessary to make that happen, and gracefully endure the challenges that go along with that realm.

P.S. If you haven't had a chance to check out the great bargains available on the Whitney Auction, click on the lovely button located on the upper left-hand side of this blog-site. Not only can you have fun bidding on said items, but the money you'll spend goes toward a worthy cause.


Gale Sears said...

Thank you for the delightful blog, and the reminder about the work involved in writing. People who think of this craft as a way to fame and glory...LOL...would do well to study your insight.

Jennie said...

Sometimes I think we writers have a loose screw somewhere. Who else would work so hard for no guarantee of payment? Fame and fortune? Not much of that going around, but as I always say it's my favorite form of misery.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Cheri, how true. All of it. And as for the picture, I love the editing portion. That's so what it feels like!

I'm glad you hung in there with Kate. And I wonder about those first five manuscripts...

Jeri Gilchrist said...

I'm with Nancy, what about the first five manuscripts, Cheri?

I loved your Kate series. I'm so glad you stuck with it!

LOL. Loved the pictures and your insight to writing. Excellent blog, Cheri.