Friday, October 06, 2006


In an attempt to give my brother-in-law more fodder for making fun of me, I want to talk for a moment about Yoga.

I've been doing mine by video tape because I recently accepted that I can't stand to exercise in public;I don't like being looked at doing just about anything, actually. I've done a few different tapes and each time the practitioners--always willowy and yet impossibly strong women with tiny waists and juicy but toned thighs-- make these poses look as easy as blinking. Some of the poses are certainly easier than others, but not a single one--except maybe the one where you lie on your back and do nothing--comes easy to me. My heart races, I sweat...I get a cardio workout just standing in one place! What this tells me is that these practitioners are either bionic humans or they have worked a long time and with much discipline to get to that effortless stage.

Kind of like writing.

Now, I do not claim to be an expert and I freely admit that writing is not always effortless for me (and any of my steadfast readers can attest to how much revision my work needs) , but in my work as an editor I am constantly running into new writers for whom "simple" tasks are difficult. And it is tempting at times to say, "you really don't know by now that you need to dramatize, not simply tell the reader your story?" Which would ultimately just shame the poor new writer. I can remember many, many hallmark moments, most of which happened in my twenties even though I've been writing since first grade, in which some crucial piece of information suddenly came clear to me. The moment of humiliation at not having already known that was usually brief so long as someone smarter/wiser/better wasn't standing nearby criticizing me.

If you take on the job of being a writer who strives after publication you will meet with a lot of criticism, some of it constructive, some of it just harsh. The problem is not that there are a lot of mean critics, but that there are a lot of careless/ tired/ non-disciplined writers whose work gluts the desks of these editors, agents and fellow writers. And we writers have blind spots. We think we're done and then someone else takes a peek and voila, we discover we have a poorly-built second draft.

But the point of my post (yes, Virginia, there is a point) is that success rarely comes overnight. Those writers who burst onto the scene with a six figure deal and glamorous publicity headshots and pithy quotes and great book jacket blurbs worked their asses off. It is the rare incidence when someone achieves instant fame through little actual writing work. Usually celebrities--Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, in case you're still undecided, are NOT writers and never will be.

Anyone who has succeeded as a published writer has followed this simple recipe: they kept on doing what they always did: dragged ideas and images from the ether of their imaginations despite most people's attitudes that that was not "real" work; listened to advice and took what they could; cursed the assholes who dared to give bad advice, then later took that too; persisted; drove their family and friends nuts; obsessed a lot about fictional people, cried a little; woke up early and late, with headaches and on an empty stomach; wrote while driving and cooking with one hand; acted moody and unpredictible;suffered bouts of megalomania then despaired that it was no use and they should quit and become a park ranger; kvetched to other writers who understood and to strangers in lines at stores who did not; decided they were the greatest, living undiscovered writer ever; accepted that they were a failed writer on every level; drank too much wine/coffee; gave up writing for one week/month/year; walked until their ankles swelled, even when it rained; did their research; followed all the steps to get an agent; cried when the manuscript didn't sell; rejoiced when it did and spent the next ten years writing books until one became a best seller and suddenly they were an "overnight' success.

See, effortless!



At 10:41 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I do find that by doing a variety of different types of writing and editing everyday, it is almost effortless. Which doesn't mean that all writing is easy.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger J said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger tracer said...

It truly is insane, this work we do. I've always rejected the idea that anguish is a prerequisiste to being a writer or any other kind of artist. But now I understand that the anguish comes later as a necessary part of the process. Has a pain-free book, any book, ever been written?


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