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Agonizing Over Every Word

June 6, 2011

I hate to hear ANY writer go on and on about how hard the actual writing is. Here are some absolute truths about the writing industry, in the order of what’s most disturbing.

1. Very few people make even decent money, much less get rich. Most will at best make a few bucks here and a few bucks there, which will help pay for the money they spend trying to be a writer.

2. Getting an agent worth a shit without already having a successful book is damn near impossible. Selling a book to a major house so that it has a chance to be successful enough that a decent agent will take you seriously is also damn near impossible.

3. No one ever got rich with a small press book.

4. At about the time you make connections in the business, figure out how the whole thing works, and find a modicum of success, the entire business model and all the people involved in it will change.

5. Everyone you will deal with -- from your agent and editor and publisher to the book readers don’t give a good damn whether you make a living or not -- it’s all about what you can give them, NOT what they can give you. They all want something from you. If they can get it from you for free or make big bucks from your ball sweat, then that’s what they want.

6. If the planets align correctly and the moon is in its right house -- and you do by the grace of G-d start pulling in the big bucks -- then and only then will everyone move into position to kiss your ass and give you more money than you need. Of course, that’s when everyone’s taste will change, or your editor will gut your book and tell you that the reader’s taste has changed and the public will hate it. Or, a dozen other things that are a sure bet will happen and you’ll go right back to square one and you’ll have to start all over again.

7. No one you really care about will be impressed in the slightest by what you do -- unless you get rich. People are always impressed by money, but they will neither respect nor appreciate writing as actual work. They will never see you as an artist, because after all, you don’t paint pictures.

8. All the big houses are in New York and -- nothing personal, New Yorkers -- New York sucks!

But I’m not bitter.

Read the list again and then answer this question: If all these things are true -- hell if even half of them are true -- why in the name of all that you find holy would you write at all if you don’t ENJOY the actual process of writing?

I contend that when a writer agonizes over every word, you don’t get a great book. What you get is a book that reads like the writer agonized over every word.

I’ve read a lot of books, and I’ve edited a lot of short stories and books. I have come to the conclusion that my enjoyment of a story has very little to do with how something was written, and everything to do with WHAT has been written.

Books that are written with painstaking attention to every comma placement and word choice and whether it was used correctly or not read is like reading a fucking essay a high school kid turned in as an assignment. It may be the work of a kid who gets an A because he did everything correctly, but for me a story that was agonized over comes off that way. It might be “well written”, but it doesn’t have any heart or soul and often, even less story. It’s just pretty words on paper, and sometimes not even that.

When a writer writes from his soul, when the passion to write consumes the writer, then the words grab you and pull you in and you read that book from cover to cover without stopping. Not because the writer had perfect sentence structure or used a comma the way you do, (because of course no one ever really agrees on how you should use a comma), but because it had flow and content. In my book, a sentence that makes you stumble if you read it out loud is wrong, even if it is 100% grammatically correct.

I have said these things before, and I will say it again and again and again until the masses bow to my will: Writers should write what they want to write. Your voice is the way you tell whoever you come home to at night -- or hang out in a bar with -- what happened during the day. If you are reading your work and it doesn’t sound like something you would say, then what the hell are you doing?

Writers, real writers -- the kind who write -- do it because they have a passion for it. They don’t agonize over every word; the words simply flow out of them. Take them out of the box, take the bridle off -- stand back and see where they will go and where they will take you.

Cookie-cutter books happen when an editor (and sometimes stupid-assed copyeditors who don’t know their job is just to correct mistakes not rewrite the story) decide to surgically remove a writer’s voice from the work by taking out anything too controversial or different, very purposefully change things so that it reads like every other book out there.

People in the big houses who think they know just what the readers want are the reason the industry is dying. They are the reason fewer people read. That’s right. I said it. Like everything else in this friggin world, there is some stupid corporate bean counter at the very top pulling the strings of a bunch of corporate drones who decide what we read, watch, and do. Obviously they’re wrong, or we wouldn’t be on the verge of lynching the rich bastards... but that’s another bitch for another time.

Why on earth would I want to read 20 books that are all the same?

If you want to write, write. Get the editor out of your head, and write just what you want to write. If you have to agonize over every word, maybe you should follow some other star.

Selina

If you enjoy these bitches, please contact Selina directly at selinarosen@cox.net. Thanks!

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