Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.
William H. Gass's Advice for Writers: You Have to Be Grimly Determined, Emily Temple (@knownemily), LitHub
I love reading advice from well-established writers. Although I've likely read similar writing wisdom elsewhere, a reminder never hurts. Emily Temple pays tribute to William H. Gass, author of Omensetter’s Luck, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Middle C, by highlighting his thoughts on various parts of the writing practice.
Gass firmly believes a writer should not cater to an audience. The reader must move to the periphery as a writer crafts his or her work.
I don’t think much about the reader. Ways of reading are adversaries—those theoretical ways. As far as writing something is concerned, the reader really doesn’t exist. The writer’s business is somehow to create in the work something which will stand on its own and make its own demands; and if the writer is good, he discovers what those demands are, and he meets them, and creates this thing which readers can then do what they like with. Gertrude Stein said, “I write for myself and strangers,” and then eventually she said that she wrote only for herself. I think she should have taken one further step. You don’t write for anybody. People who send you bills do that. People who want to sell you things so they can send you bills do that. People who want to tell you things so they can sell you things so they can send you bills do that. You are advancing an art—the art. That is what you are trying to do.Fiction writers may get caught up in developing their characters. After all, the characters star in the novel. They drive the plot, and we all know how important it is to flesh out a character. However, Ishiguro shifts the emphasis from the character to the characters’ relationships. As in life, we are often defined by the way we interact with those close to us.
Writers must cultivate patience. This single trait lends to perseverance. Gass explains why a writer must gain fondness for repetition.
The real writing process is simply sitting there and typing the same old lines over and over and over and over and sheet after sheet after sheet gets filled with the same shit. And then I discard or abandon material for weeks, months, during which time I start something new. Usually I have a great many projects going at the same time—in the sense that a start of some sort has been made.
On tough writing days writers will likely need solid encouragement. In those moments, Gass says not to despair, but engage in the act of writing.
Try to remember that artists in these catastrophic times, along with the serious scientists, are the only salvation for us, if there is to be any. Be happy because no one is seeing what you do, no one is listening to you, no one really cares what may be achieved, but sometimes accidents happen and beauty is born.
Gass encourages writers to write for the sake of writing and continue to revise even if you think you are done. This a helpful article to bookmark and to return to every few months to seek comfort from a writer who reminds us how to find determination while staring at the blank page.
Maintaining Self-Esteem and Motivation in a Year of Rejection, René Ostberg, Brevity
As writers we all encounter rejection. Some months we are brave enough to submit only to find out weeks later the piece wasn't a good fit or didn't quite fit the parameters of a literary journal. René Ostberg discusses her 2017 writing year and the number of rejections she faced.
All I can say for sure is that my rejection count is in the double digits and well out of the teens, and includes multiple rejections for three short stories, a handful of poems, two residencies, and the odd pitch.
As for my acceptances of 2017… for those, I have been keeping close count, and the grand total is easy to figure, hard to face. Zero. Thus, my 2017 record so far: zero acceptances, umpteen rejections. With less than a month in the year to go, I’m looking at a year of full rejection for me as a writer.
When confronting relentless rejection, what does a writer do? How does the writer maintain a healthy self-esteem? Ostberg asks, "So for 2018, the question is: Do I quit or keep writing, keep trying, despite all the rejection?"
Rejection, like nearly anything else, can be turned on its head, reexamined, reshaped, and ultimately reclaimed as a badge of honor, a source of pride and inspiration. Though submitting isn’t the same thing as writing, it is a form of motivation, a pronounced exercise in self-belief. Moreover, earning 100 rejections takes some hustle, and hustle takes energy, and energy begets energy that can be converted into another go at this story or that poem, into words on the page. Which is a writer’s reason for being more than anything else – the foundation for her identity. In that regard, rejection and the goal of racking them up – whether you set your goal for 100 or umpteen or a year’s worth – are just the cement that help you strengthen your foundation. If you’re getting rejected, you’re not just sitting around your laptop obsessing about your failure like a loser. Rejection means you’re trying and it also means you’re writing. You know, putting yourself out there.
There is a vulnerability in Ostberg's words. As a writer, a rejection means you are still working on your art, polishing your craft and submitting work. The ultimate point is to keep going even when you aren't receiving affirmation - this is the hallmark of a writer who stays with the practice.
How to Find a Literary Agent for Your Book, Jane Friedman (@janefriedman)
If you are writer looking for a literary agent for your novel or nonfiction book, Jane Friedman offers a guide on how to land the right individual to represent your work. There are several steps to this process, including how to find an agent, what is required in the submission process, and what a writer should expect.
Friedman outlines different ways to find an agent. Here are four options:
PublishersMarketplace.com is the best place to research literary agents; not only do many agents have member pages there, but you can search the publishing deals database by genre, category, and/or keyword to pinpoint the best agents for your work. Some other resources to consider:
- AgentQuery.com. About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process.
- QueryTracker.net. About 200 publisher listings and 1,000 agent listings.
- WritersMarket.com. About 400 to 600 agent listings. $5.99/month subscription fee.
If an agent is interested in your work, what should you submit? Before you query, be prepared.
Every agent has unique requirements for submitting your materials. The most common materials you’ll be asked for:
- Query letter. This is a one-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work.
- Novel synopsis. This is a brief summary (usually no more than one or two pages) of your story, from beginning to end. It must reveal the ending.
- Nonfiction book proposal. These are complex documents, usually twenty to thirty pages in length (minimum).
- Novel proposal. This usually refers to your query letter, a synopsis, and perhaps the first chapter. There is not an industry-standard definition of what a novel proposal is.
- Sample chapters. When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Don’t select a middle chapter, even if you think it’s your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable.
The agent is interested in your work, but should you settle for the first person who wants to represent you? Don't settle and Friedman suggests a writer should ponder these questions:
1. What’s her sales track record?
2. Does her communication inspire confidence?
3. What’s her level of enthusiasm?
Asking the right questions are important, but every writer needs to judge the chemistry he or she shares with an agent.
What to Give Yourself This Year, , Writer Unboxed
It is the best time to evaluate what you need to create a productive writing year for 2018. Kathleen McCleary says it is easy to set goals for your writing, but why not consider other "gifts to yourself?"
Consider your space.
I cleared my desk of everything except my computer, a notepad and pen, and one or two small items that bring me pleasure—a millefiori paperweight my aunt gave me when I finished my last novel, a photo of my girls as babies, the glass bowl that sat on my father’s dresser. When I walk in here to work, it’s peaceful and inspiring. It’s been well worth the cost of a few gallons of paint.
Don't try to attain the perfect draft. Move toward getting the words on the page by embracing imperfection.
You have to write a lot of bad sentences to raise your percentage of flawless sentences. So write those bad sentences and try to make them better but don’t beat yourself up for them. They’re part of the process, too.
Invest in a good critique group whether it is online or in-person. The right feedback will elevate your work.
I’m in a couple different writing groups, a real one and a virtual one, and I couldn’t do without either one. My real-life group meets once every 4-6 weeks and we support each other fiercely and we tell the truth to each other about our work. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but it’s seldom wrong. My group has saved me from improbable plot twists, implausible behavior (by my characters), boredom, and giving up.
Evaluate what you need in your writing life and implement those changes before the new year begins.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!