Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Dilemma

By the ever opinionated E.C. Stacy

A friend from way back looked me up the other day and noticed that I was a writer. He wanted to ‘get back to pursuing his dream of publication’ and asked me to look at his manuscript. Right here, I should point out that he has no formal education in English, Journalism, Literature or related disciplines of a writer—not that one has to have them to achieve publication, but usually an aspiring author has to pay some dues one way or another. Writer’s organizations are also very effective for acquiring the tools, incidentally. I recommend Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. :)

It would have been more palatable if he’d invited me to an Amway sales retreat. I mean, if you’ve been in this business for a while, you know a new writer probably needs work and by the same turn, they probably don’t want to hear that. Even it they do overcome the body slam of criticism, they don’t realize, as I didn’t and probably many of you didn’t either, how much they have to learn.

Cornered because he was an ‘old pal’, I tried a couple of customer-service strategies to stall. I talked about how many years I went to critique groups, and the stacks of rejections, and the delay between epiphanies that improved my prose.

He wrote back, saying that he agreed with all that…as if he had the battle scars.

So then I responded that when I started, I thought I had a foothill to climb, but actually it was Mt. Everest. And hell, I’m still scaling the beast.

His reply: something about how he could understand how he might have some work ahead of him.

So I went for broke. I asked if he knew what oblique dialogue was. A marker? Ever heard of a shapeshifter, a threshold guardian?

His next correspondence was when I knew the game was over. He said he went to a community college creative writing class and didn’t feel the critiques there were very helpful. He also sent the manuscript to my inbox and left it open ended, saying “If you get around to it.”

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I’m glad he sought higher learning. Quite frankly, I don’t know what they cover in creative writing classes at junior colleges. But I noticed that he didn’t answer me. Clearly, he was oblivious.

Well, I sure the hell wasn’t going to fall into that black hole. My message back to him said: Took a peek at your story. Yep, you’ve got the writer’s bug. I strongly encourage you to submit it to some publishers. Good luck.

And he thought that was just peachy.

The twist here is: I really like helping. But I can't help someone if they think they've already figured it out.

Sincerely, from me to all of you who know what a tough road this is, feel free to use my little charm should you find yourself in a similar pinch.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Most of us have no idea how much we don't know until we place our work in the hands of a real editor. That's where I got most of my education.

Susan Spann said...

Sadly, I think the first real step to becoming a published author is not actually writing a novel. It's learning to accept - and welcome - honest critique.

The second step is learning that "honest critique" is not what you get from the person who says your work is fabulous - it's what you get from the person who says "you can't start every other sentence with a participial phrase."

My beta readers and I have an understanding. I deliver them a Manuscript Pinata and a Great Big Stick, and I expect them to beat that baby until it spews candy everywhere.

Chiseled in Rock said...

Excellent point, Susan! And congrats on your book deal. :)