As I’ve Been Saying There are No Easy Answers…

This post contains an excerpt written on February 20, 2010 by Jane Friedman in Writer’s Digest. As I’ve been saying, there are no easy answers, no formulas. Writers have to flex their writing muscles, develop their voice and style. Eventually, editing skills become essential. Whether a writer is successful is another story. Some of it has to due with talent, some with luck, and some with perseverance. Read on…

The Writing Advice Book That Would Never Sell
The book I really want to write would encompass the following dilemmas and contradictions:

• Talent vs. Practice (or Discipline). Some people are born to be writers. Others seem to be blessed with the discipline to get better. Can you succeed without any talent? Which quality is more important? And how do you know if you have any talent to begin with? Certainly those with talent need to practice, too—or not?

• Luck vs. Persistence. I’ve seen so many lucky writers—people who were at the right place at the right time. Yet the cliche is that luck favors the prepared. That feels true, though I’ve met a lot of prepared people who never seem to catch a break.

• Confidence/Ego vs. Doubt. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t have self-doubt, though not all will admit to it. We’re always waiting to be revealed as complete phonies. Yet without some measure of outrageous ego—a belief that you have something to say to the world—there’s no way you could justify writing. Writing is not for the weak. The weak ones give up easily, sometimes with the first rejection.

• Professionalism vs. Eccentricity. The writers who are business-savvy and have a flair for marketing & promotion almost always do well. Yet the writers we tend to fall in love with, and the ones we remember, can be the craziest, the most rude, or the most outrageous. Strong personalities sell, too.

• Extroversion vs. Introversion. Extroverts network better and find more people to help them. Introverts are naturally suited to writing and often notice all those wonderful details that extroverts miss. Horrible stereotyping here, but still.

No one really wants to read a heady book on these issues. People want the secrets to success and a positive spin. But the longer I’m in the business, the more slippery it all looks. I know what works for some, but it never works for all. Sometimes I wish I could sit down with each writer personally, and put together a specific plan of attack based on that writer’s talents and strengths.

But you know what? When I do that for some people, they ignore the advice anyway and do their own thing. Our innate (and learned) tendencies, inclinations, habits, and attitudes reign supreme.

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2 Comments

Filed under editing, luck, on publishing, on writing, practice, publishing, talent, writing

2 responses to “As I’ve Been Saying There are No Easy Answers…

  1. I was struck by your last three items, because they reflect almost exactly what my observations from other fields are:

    The charismatic and well-dressed extrovert is (on average) more successful than his opposite—but at the same time he is (again, on average) the one with the lesser actual accomplishments and ability. In many ways, it is a differentiation of people with a focus on and ability with, respectively, covers and content: The one knows that the book with the flashier cover is likely to sell more; the other, that the book with the better content makes the better read.

    As an aside: I would not, myself, use the word “professionalism” to describe e.g. being business-savvy, but see the actual meaning to be more along the lines of attention to detail, willingness to go the extra mile, and similar. This, however, is a matter of the label.

    • Pam

      This post was excerpted from someone in the “business” of publishing others. I’m not sure that anyone really knows what works. I think some of traditional publishing is incestuous and a lot these days is riding the coattails of someone’s fame. Luck and hard work is what shakes out for the rest of us. I don’t know if there is a difference in attitude to books and writing in Europe than in the States. I’ve heard that European countries are more supporting of the arts than the States and this may pertain to literature as well. I imagine the Internet and digital era has affected all writers worldwide though maybe to differing extents.

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