Words of Writerly Wisdom or the Discouragement of Dastardly Doomsayers

There was an interesting discussion recently (10th April) in the Purple Zone (nickname for the Australian Voyageronline Message Board), on whether published authors were mean – or wise – to tell unpublished writers horror tales about how hard it is to get published.

One writer said, and I have compressed his commentary: Sometimes I wonder at the impartiality of writers advising others not to try competing with them. The cumulative effect of all these well-meaning pieces is to discourage writers. Think of the stories we’re losing because we as an industry pride ourselves on the mass of broken bodies outside the front door!

He has no problem with the majority of the advice offered by writers, but is not convinced that the constant flow of discouraging comments to new writers is becoming to us as writers, or to the industry in general. Sick of all the negativity, his advice is: If you’re planning to write a novel, go right ahead! Be aware that the path to publishing is a difficult one, but by all means have a crack!

Another writer said in reply (also compressed): The easily discouraged and defeated may give up, but those who are determined to break through, come hell or high water, are more likely to take on board the info they need with a “forewarned is forearmed” approach.

She thinks the negative approach is really designed to stop people making stupid mistakes and to educate them about the realities of a very tough process. She feels that, for the most part, the writers who do talk publishing turkey are trying to help, not hinder. She says, I guess the nub of the question is: are they discouraging, or are they being honest about a difficult and unpalatable truth? Getting published is like wanting to be an actor, or a dancer, or a singer. The cold reality is that many many many more people want to achieve the goal than will achieve it. Do I think anyone at all should be told give up, don’t bother? No. I do think that those who wish to pursue the goal should do so with their eyes open, fully cognisant of the pitfalls, the drawbacks and the basic tools necessary for the journey. And if other writers don’t make them public, how else are people going to best help themselves?

It was an interesting discussion, quite a bit longer, with other participants, than what I have summarised here.

I must admit that – having had an enormously long and difficult road to publication in spite of having an excellent agent – I am more of the school that thinks unpublished writers need to be told. They need to be realistic.

To be skilled in anything at all usually takes practice. Usually YEARS of practice. It takes experience. Usually YEARS of experience. It usually involves good advice/teachers/role models/mentors/or similar. You rarely win a game of any kind the first time you try. The unpalatable truth is that most who begin, never win. In the Olympic 100m sprint, there is only one gold medal, one silver, one bronze. Think of how many start along that road and never end up on the winning podium.

I would like to think that my kind of “negativity” is designed to make the best writers more determined never to give up – and to be prepared to do the hard work getting published usually entails. I’d like to think that my story is more inspirational than off-putting.

And, as I have said before, if you enjoy the journey, then your time will never be wasted, no matter what happens at the finish line – because how can a feeling of joy or achievement or satisfaction or pleasure in creativity ever be considered a waste?

Originally posted in Glenda’s blog on Thursday, 20 April 2006 (6 Comments).

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