Mark Terry

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sleight of Hand

August 26, 2006
Over on Rob Gregory Brown's blog, he has a delightful essay about writer as magician. That is to say, what we do looks easy, but requires tons and tons of practice and work in the background to make it work.

Amen, brother.

I had a lengthy essay on this about a year ago and even dragged my brother Pete into the fray to post on the issue from a musician and composer's perspective.

The question I had was this: Why does everybody who ever writes something think they're going to automatically be a bestseller? Does every person who picks up a guitar automatically assume they're good enough to go pro? Does every person who plays softball or touch football think they're good enough to play in the majors?

It doesn't seem like it. Yet it's very, very common for people who've never published a word to think, Hey, I wrote this novel, I'm sure it's going to get published and become a bestseller.

And maybe it will.

And maybe you'll be sitting in your living room watching "Friends" re-runs and a runaway bus will bounce up on your lawn, crash through your front window and kill you.

After all, it doesn't happen often, but it DOES happen. Why not to you?

Hell, I used to think I'd get that big hit and make a fortune. Maybe I still will. But at least on my logical, rational days (rather than on my wish fullfillment days), I believe that I'm going to have to build an audience book by book and that this can be an arduous, unreliable thing that may never happen.

It's sure not as much fun as believing your next book is the winning lottery ticket.

And since writers live in a fantasy world half the time anyway, I suppose it's just an extension of that overactive imagination.

Yes, it COULD happen to you. It just probably won't.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And just like that, there go my dreams.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

It gets worse than that. The guy who wrote it and submitted gets rejected and decides he just doesn't have the talent and gives up. I'd be willing to bet that 90% of the writers who get shot down on the first try never try again.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Anonymous, dream on. Brutally, I can say if that's all it takes for your dreams to disappear, you didn't have a big grip on them anyway.

Ron, yes, but you've already said you don't want to know the odds. Just keep in mind there are 200,000 books published per year in the U.S. and everybody thinks they're going to be the one to be the next Dan Brown.

Michener famously said in America a writer can make a fortune, but not a living. My experience suggests he was wrong, that a writer (not necessarily a novelist) can make a living, but probably not a fortune.

My heart-felt suggestion to all aspiring novelists: don't focus on the money, focus on the work.

Maybe I'll be able to follow my own advice someday.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I think people generally do not understand that writing takes skill. They may, at best, figure a writer has "a way with words." Naturally, if they aspire to write a book they figure they have a way with words themselves.

You can see the lack of respect writing gets as a skill in what most writing jobs pay.

Partly it may be due to the fact that we all do, to an extent, have a way with words. We can all communicate with words in our daily lives and the specialized methods writers need to use to communicate effectively in ways which go beyond, for instance, everyday conversation or a personal letter to a friend or family member, are not readily apparant.

If a mechanic who doesn't know the job sort of fixes your car, it won't run. But if someone who doesn't know how to write sort of writes a book, it can still be read and some sense gleaned from it, even if it's ineffective to achieve its purpose.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Ron said: "I'd be willing to bet that 90% of the writers who get shot down on the first try never try again."

I think you're being very generous calling these people writers.

Writers, like great magicians, don't give up until they get it right.

10:42 PM  
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