Tip #5 on Becoming Traditionally published
I have been trying so hard to post a picture here. Loretta Stephenson did it as a beautiful title bar for this blog, and I really want to put it in, even if just as a picture in each post. Unfortunately, it won't post. It also seems I'm no longer able to post any pictures of mine at all. Something has gone really wrong here. But I did want you to know what a lovely thing she did. Loretta, maybe if you gave me a link to your picture on your website or your blog, I could put it in a link under my title (which you can't see, but it's there) and then people could at least click on it to see what a lovely piece of work it is, and know what a kind heart it came from.
Before I go on with Tip #5, I do hope you all understand that this "homework" type stuff really is only something that will help you become better writers in your own work. It is your own original work, not the stuff I'm suggesting you do as Tips to becoming traditionally published, that you will be submitting for the Workshop, as Jessica has done with the first chapter of her novel, and that I'll be discussing either as a podcast or as a written commentary, depending on what this blog will let me do, on Monday, November 1. Remember, you are all in the workshop, so I would really appreciate you sending me your comments soon on Jessica's Chapter One if you haven't already (she doesn't name it that, but it is the first chapter of a novel). Also, do we have a volunteer to submit something for us to comment on for December 1?
1. Remember that you are not really writing (even your own special novel or short story) to become traditionally published. Remember that the cake is having fun writing, and the frosting is who publishes you. These days life is not so easy for traditional publishers. I have been hearing some frightening statistics. Perhaps within ten years there will be only electronic publishing. So more than ever, it's important to write your best, from your heart, to please your heart. What you do with your work of heart after that will be more a political decision than anything else.
2. Given that, I know that you still want to be traditionally published, and that it is unfair for you to be writing in a world where that is getting harder. I also know that you all have what it used to take: focus, true desire (as opposed to the wrong kind of desire, which is ego-based), ability, and the willingness to work however much you need, to hone your craft.
3. So let's pretend (???) you actually still have that notebook I suggested you start several weeks ago, you know, the one with the stories listed in it, the stories from a current magazine or a book of short stories published in the last three years in the genre you want to join. (If you've tossed it in disgust into a garbage can, that's okay, sad, but okay. It doesn't have to stop you from this exercise).
This exercise is quite difficult, and therefore hugely fun to do. If you still have your notebook , go and have a look at all the stories that you've rewritten in your own style. That was fun, I'm sure it was. Now go back to the magazine or book that you started from, and pick two of the stories, ones that are quite different in style. I'm talking about the original versions here.
Say you choose as Story A the original one called "Buying Plums", and as Story B the original one called "Facts of Life". Here is the exercise. WRITE: "Buying Plums" -- the same story, the same characters, the same theme, and likely the same resolution -- only write it as if the author of "Facts of Life" had written it. Then, if you are up to the challenge, do it the other way around. If you can't do more than a page of it, don't think less of yourself. Every little bit you do, you will learn more, and someday you'll be able to do the whole thing. Just do what you can.
(But somehow I can hear the groans from here...)
4. If you tossed out your notebook, go get another magazine, and pick two stories whose styles are very different, and do the same thing as above.
5. This is hard to do, but it isn't work. Why? Because you don't have to do it. You only will do it if you want to, if you believe you'll learn some really good tricks of the trade by doing it. Work is stuff you have to do.
If you think this exercise is going to be more work than fun, don't do it at all. The reason why it is fun is that you're being you (Person 1) being someone else (Person 2) writing something else by a different writer (Person 3) in the style of Person 2. It's really quite funny, when you think about it like this.
Remember you have help:
(a) prayer, if you believe in it, to help you to remember that this is funny.
(b) wine or beer, if you use it -- avoid the hard stuff
(c) laughter, always. If you can't find laughter at yourself or at one of the authors or at both of them, then go online and ask your friends to send you some of those joke sheets that are always being emailed around.
(d) phone a good friend or your spouse. Tell them you're too good a writer to have to do this and invite them to go to a movie with you. Just one night, though...
(e) get someone to rub your shoulders, loosen your tense muscles, massage your scalp.
(f) have a spa day with a bunch of friends at one of their houses. Men, you too. Mud packs on the face will make you laugh and the mud will crack and you'll all laugh at each other. It's important to laugh.
(g) exercise very hard for five minutes exactly. Whatever kind of exercise that will make you feel proud of yourself for doing.
(h) Remember that Person B and Person C, who have worked so hard on the thing you're rewriting, would hate what you're doing, and be grateful that they will never see what you're doing. That will also make you laugh.
(i) Remember that this exercise is not meant to be necessary to you as a writer. Think of it as a game. It's a game of strategy, where you learn a whole lot of other people's stylistic techniques without having to pay a penny to get them to teach it to you.
(j) Yell "I hate you Welwyn" (don't pronounce the second w, it's kind of like saying Wellen) whenever you feel like it.
(k) Hug your kids, or your partner, and tell them what you're trying to do in a way that'll make them laugh. Or send it in an email to someone else, and make them laugh.
(j) Remember all the things you have to be grateful for, one of which is that you'll never feel obliged to do this again. Only, you're not obliged, remember? You can do it, or you can say No. Be grateful for that.
Good luck, as always, and keep on adding to the list of things that help when you are finding some writing task difficult. You'll learn your own tricks. Post them below!