Life is complicated and simple and important and wonderful and sometimes boring, but most of all, in the human realm, it’s short. There’s only so much time in a day to eat, to do, to learn, to be.
To what? To live life. To be a writer, a musician, a farmer, a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend. To be whatever it is you want to be.
I know these statements are fascinating and wonderful and maybe even beautiful, and that’s what life is. But life is also hard work. And it takes hard work to discover and be whatever it is you want to be and to make yourself into the person to wish to be.
If you chose to be a writer, then you have to work at it. Anybody can put two words together and make a sentence. (Think: “See Dick.” “See Jane.”) But it takes a lot of work, maybe even more work than anyone really wants to, to write a story, a play, poetry, a novel. Nearly ninety percent of all people who start writing a novel or a script (either for a play or film) never finish. And of that last ten percent, eight out of ten of them will give up after they finish.
So, that means that two percent of the writers who begin writing finish writing. And that two percent do all the writing in the world. Not much competition, then, right? However, that two percent equals millions of people.
Millions of writers, who send million of scripts and novels to a few thousand agents worldwide who have to pick the ones they find the most interesting, the most special, the most valuable, the best of the best. And then these agents send them to the few dozens publishers and film makers who have to find out if the best of the best really are the best.
The competition is intense. It’s like you’re in New York City on a perfectly wonderful and mild Spring day and you’re on foot, without a car. And twelve blocks away you see the publisher you need to present your idea to and you call out to him. But twelve city blocks is a mile and a bit more. With hundreds, maybe thousands of people between you and him, he can’t hear you. He can’t see you. So, you run. You push through the crowd. But he’s on the move. And someone else, as eager to speak to him as you, pushes past you. So you run on. And someone else, anxious and even more aggressive than either you or the runner who pushed past you, knocks you down and sprints after him, shoving people out of the way, even the person who pushed past you. And then more people pass you, each with scripts and novels in their hands. So what do you do? Do you give up? No, your try harder.
And that’s what we all have to do as writers. We have to try harder. We have to give our best. And we have to make certain our best is better than even what we think it is.
I know lots of writers. Among the mistakes that most writers make is not editing their work properly, They use Spell Check and grammar programs to edit their work without really knowing what editing is. They expect publishers and agents to do the editing for them. Those days are gone. Now writers must be copyeditors.
Nowadays, writers don’t know what it means to copyedit their writing. For instance, copyediting means more than finding grammatical mistakes. It means making things clearer to the reader. It means getting rid of anything that slows the story down.
For instance, I’ve spent the last two weeks struggling with a chapter in a new novel of mine. I’ve finished the novel and I’m rewriting and copyediting it. And this chapter slowed the story down so much that even I thought, “To hell with this!” I tried different approaches to it, cutting large blocks of text out of it, rewriting it and placing smaller bits of information into it, even deleting the whole thing (good thing I made a copy of it before fooling with it) and nothing seemed to work. So I thought about it and thought about it. And being a believer, I prayed about.
Now, if you’re not a believer, please don’t take offense at my choice. Consider my prayer as meditation. And if you don’t believe in that, then just think about your writing as hard and as long as you can, until you find the best way to make certain any writing you’re struggling with works. After two weeks of consideration, I shortened the chapter by a thousand words to a page and a half, with new ideas that strengthened the chapter’s themes.
Good editing is about knowing when to remove something, even if it’s the most beautiful thing you’v ever written, if it slows down or misdirects the story. Good editing is about adding words to make things clearer and getting rid of words or even whole sections when it makes things more confusing. Grammar and spelling programs cannot help you with this.
It comes down to this: As writers, there’s not enough time in the world to keep making the mistakes that keep us from our common goal, of being successful writers. Bad editing and bad writing are among those mistakes. It doesn’t matter how brilliant and talented you are. If you present something that smells like crap, then no matter how wonderful it is, people will think of it as crap and steer clear of it.
Other writers that I know have fair success, but they still aren’t reaching their goals of greater success. That’s because they’re writing what everyone else is writing. Success depends upon coming up with the next new thing. Except, there isn’t any new thing. King Solomon, in The Bible, wrote thousands of years ago, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun. And he was right. The only newness is approaching something in a different way. In technology, for example, the next new thing is just a better version of the old thing.
So give plenty of thought to what you write. And if you find a better way to tell your story, even if you’re fifty, sixty, or hundred thousand words into it, go back and do it over. Better is better.
Remember that. If you want to grab an agent or publisher’s attention, be better, do better, and be the best of all. Too many just don’t think of that. Be honest with yourself. If you can think of a better way to tell your story, make it happen.
See you out there.