Feels good to be back in the swing of things, doesn't it? But then, I'm not a bundle of nerves, waiting for my excerpt to be critiqued.
Of course, I wouldn't mind. I can't tell you how painful it was to have to pass up the opportunity to use one of the extra spaces with my shiny new YA dystopian.
That's just it, though. "Shiny new" doesn't cut it. I've several months of hard work ahead of me before it's ready for the Land of Query.
I tweeted something last night on which someone immediately took me to task--gently, of course. And since Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet, I thought Friday Fricassee would be a better place to discuss this.
Here's my tweet:
It's not enough to write well. It really isn't. No matter what anyone says, it's not enough.
Some of you will immediately agree. Others will balk.
Here's my take, spoken from experience:
Since early childhood, I've been marked as a "gifted writer." You know how some talents float to the top while we are still young? I've got a stack of stapled-together, marker-illustrated story books as physical evidence of my innate writerliness. (Coined a new word, I did.) Despite this early "giftedness," though, I've actually begun to write well only recently.
Mark that. I've begun to write well recently.
I'm not finished getting better, either. Writing well takes a lot of time, a lot of work. A lot of willingness to grow. And growing hurts sometimes.
Most of the time, actually.
So, without tooting my own horn, I can say confidently that, yes, I write well. I've been told by agents and editors in various and sundry ways that, yes, I write well.
Bully for me.
You don't see my fiction on the shelves, though. You don't see me waving my "I've landed an agent!" flag. Not yet, anyway.
Therein lies the discrepancy. I write well, but nobody has gobbled up my novels. Yet.
So what's missing?
If there were an easy answer, we'd all know it by now, and we'd all be published. Or at least agented. Thing is, the algorithm of what-it-takes-to-be-a-published-author is so convoluted that there is never a pat answer.
Yes, excellent writing is at the heart. It has to be. And "excellent writing" constitutes not only the writing itself, but the plotting. For me personally, the writing comes more easily. Plotting makes me sweat (hence the plotcard saga). So when I call myself a "good writer," I'm talking about the actual writing -- grammar, syntax, sentences, pacing, voice.
But what if one does write well, is told so on numerous occasions, but is still coming up empty on the agent front?
*insert large, theatrical sigh here*
The following list of questions may help to clarify what's "missing" from a well written but not snatched-up story:
Is the story salable right now?
Is the agent or editor sipping coffee over your manuscript passionately in love with your story? Ready to shed blood over it, if need be?
Is there room on the agent's/editor's list for your story?
Is your story too "quiet" to attract attention? Beautifully done but not stellar?
(Okay, I really hate that word. One of the most stinging replies I've gotten from an agent was, "While this is very competent, it perhaps isn’t quite stellar." So no one told me I had to be "stellar." What the heck does that mean anyway? Hem. Sorry. Carry on.)
Is it too difficult to empathize with your protagonist?
Has the barometric pressure fallen too quickly during the final phase of the moon?
You see my point. There is so much more than just Really Good Writing that makes a novel a slam dunk for an agent or editor. And I think my piddling list of questions merely scratches the surface.
I've had personal referrals, agent to agent. I've had my manuscript passed around an entire agency in the hope that someone would fall enough in love with it. I've had the "I'll read this again with revisions" response. I've had praise for plot, for writing ability, for the "pluckiness" of my main character.
And here I sit.
Lots of good stuff, still not where I want to be. And pressing on.
Now it's your turn. What does "good writing" mean to you, and what do you feel might yet be missing? Or are you really of the "good writing trumps all" school of thought? The comment box awaits your lively responses!
As for me, I'm rolling up my sleeves for some heavy-duty editing today. Those stinky plotcards actually WORK. I'm already fixing something that jumped out like a naked nun. (Stick that on your list of similes-to-avoid-at-all-costs.)
And happy weekend! I'll see you bright and early on Monday with the unveiling of our sneaky and delightful Secret Agent.