Sunday, August 15, 2010

You Mean Every SINGLE Day

At a summer writers’ conference last month, I took a children’s book writing workshop. During the open Q&A portion of the workshop, one of the attendees asked the instructor (who is a published children’s book author) how often she writes. The instructor answered “Every day.”

The attendee, who was a very sweet, slightly overexcited, and a touch underconfident, lady stiffened, blinked and said, “I’m not sure how to hear that.”
 At this point, I know what’s going on. It’s the deer in the headlights look I get when people ask me that question and get the same answer.

The instructor frowned and asked, “What do you mean?” to which the sweet lady responded in a voice undercut with astonishment, “Well, when you say you write every day, do you mean every day?”

Instructor: “Yes.”

Sweet Lady: “Oh. So, you mean every single day.”

Years ago I would have laughed at this. Now, I’m just chafed and confounded. Why is this a surprise to people? Especially if they are aspiring novelists asking this question of a novelist. Most novels are at least 300 – 400 pages long with 100,000 words in them They don’t pop out whole. Oh how I wish they did!

I’ve had similar experiences with other areas of writing, for example:

A young woman who’d recently gotten a degree in journalism that told me she hated college because the instructors were always correcting her work. Huh? I told her to look into self-publishing.

A gentleman said the guidelines of the publisher he was targeting mentioned the house is looking for manuscripts 90k – 120k and wanted to know how many words they will really accept? 70K? 80k? I asked him to tell me about his day job because his future just might live there.

More recently I was on an author panel. One of the questions we got was regarding how polished a manuscript should be when you turn it into an editor. To which we responded in unison “Polished.” The person followed up her question with “Polished, polished?” To which we responded, “Yes!” Undaunted she wanted to know if that meant grammatically correct and free from typos.

One more example and then I’ll let this go:

I was editing an anthology with a friend. In our call for submissions, two of our guidelines clearly stated that we were looking for short stories of 8 – 12 pages and that all submissions had to be within the body of the e-mail. One writer sent an e-mail pleading for us to allow him to send an attachment. He expressed his angst at the error messages he received trying to send his story in the body of the e-mail. Suspicious, I wrote back asking how long his story was. He wrote back . . . 69 pages (after he’d put it in 10 point Times and single spaced it). He was trying SO HARD to get it to the point where it could be sent in the body of the e-mail, but alas . . .

I wrote back and told him how many times I’ve heard editors say they reject 80% of the manuscripts they receive simply because the writer didn’t follow the guidelines.

These are not isolated incidents. I get this stuff all the time.


What is wrong with these aspiring writers? Seriously. I never had this kind of hesitation about the craft—backing away so acutely from the things that would help me get published. No published authors I know had these kinds of deflections--this need to circumvent the rules or have exceptions made for them. I guess it takes all kinds. You’d think after 10 years in the industry, I’d get used to it.

To all those struggling to learn and follow “the rules,” I wish you lots of luck, tremendous effort, and tenacious pursuit, because that is what it takes.

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