Evading the gatekeepers, figuring out your own shit

I maintain the Writing & Publishing section at work, and as I was straightening up the many, many books on becoming a successful writer, I noticed a shift in my own attitude toward that process.

There was a time when I was very concerned with the mechanics of “breaking in” — how many syllables should the first sentence of your query letter be, and so on. This was, I think, a reflection of my own conviction that I was a good writer, that the market was self-evidently full of books written by people whose skills were inferior to mine, and therefore the whole enchilada of becoming a successful writer was figuring out how to persuade the gatekeepers to recognize these facts.

Any number of things have happened to alter my perspective. Among them is the lesson that there is a mighty gulf between being able to write a good book and writing a good book. (To say nothing of the gulf between being able to conceive a good book and being able to write it.) I think, also, that it’s easy for a young writer to overemphasize talent, that being most of what one has at the beginning of a career. It’s been eye-opening to realize that an uninspired wordsmith who delivers solid product in substantial and reliable quantities is in fact a better writer than the tortured genius who dribbles out a few hundred words when Venus is in trine. Craft is important. Work ethic is important. And talent develops over time. But most important, I think, has been the simple process of getting familiar with my own capacities and my own shortcomings. In wrestling with them, the idea of surmounting them becomes real, and it gives my writing life a concrete future beyond “And then I’m gonna write some stuff”.

I still believe I’m a good writer, and the market is indeed full of books written by people whose skills are inferior to mine. But I don’t want to be one of them. And, having realized that, I believe that when I get where I want to be for any given form, I’ll be able to sell my work on its merits, regardless of whether my query is appropriately dactylic.

Originally published on LiveJournal