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Monday, June 7, 2010

Some Things I Tell Kids #2

My second answer to the question of what makes someone a writer is a big one:

You have to be a risk-taker.

You have to be willing to risk it I'm not talking about your life, or your health or your money. No. You have to be willing to risk something that is even harder to let go of.

Your pride.

You have to be willing to let someone else see your writing AND you have to be willing to learn from the experience.

An example from my writing past:

About five years ago, with a few easy readers and picture books under my belt, I decided to try and write a chapterbook, or perhaps an easy novel. I had a title (this is where most of my writing starts) and characters and kind of a rough idea of how many chapters and such so I sat down and wrote. Being the non-outliner that I am, I had no idea when I was going to be done until I actually finished it. (Along the way, I had mentioned the idea to my editor and she was game, so I kind of felt like it was a slam dunk.)

It was not a slam dunk.

Here I had risked my pride, my writing reputation, writing in a different style, taking a chance and she did not buy the book.

Let me say that again: She did not buy the book.

Especially hard because she had been quite enthusiastic about the premise. And then she wrote to me about why she couldn't offer for it, even though she loved the voice, adored the characters, and found the dialoge enchanting. My book had no plot.

No plot.

I took the risk and failed.....or did I?

I like to think I did not fail. I like to think I did something far better. I learned.

After that, I made it my business to learn about plot, to understand it. And I knew it would take time. Plot is not the same thing as a premise. But the truth is that I never would have really understood PLOT without failing first. And in order to learn the lesson, I had to take the risk.

I am a better writer for trying and failing.

Today, I can look at that old manuscript and I do not cringe. I smile, for it helped me understand things about my own work that I never would have had I not taken the risk and written it.

(Of course, there is NO WAY I am going to show it to anybody now!!)



Tess said...

this is such an important thing :

plot is not the same thing as premise

it took me two novels and four years to learn that lesson. I'm still trying not to forget it as I get wrapped up in characters and premise.

and, thanks for sharing this. it's something that I am experiencing on a certain level...putting yourself out there, taking risks and learning, if not always "succeeding".

Kelly said...

Writing is definitely risky. Thankfully you can keep getting better and keep at it.
I like the plot vs premise comparison!

Lydia Kang said...

Oh! The no plot problem. I think I might have that now (*ducks head*)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You got me with the line about doing something far better--learning. I get down on myself for all my missteps but I can also see how much I've learned, how my fiction writing is getting better. I may not be there yet, but I'm trying.
Thanks for this post. It's brave of you and uplifting to me. And I love the point about plot vs premise. That's important to remember.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Now I'm paranoid. Does my ms have PLOT? Oh boy.

L. T. Host said...

Yikes! Thanks for sharing this-- it's good to keep in mind that publishing one book isn't the end of the road.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post, Shelley! Thanks for sharing. I hope when I send my first novel out to my critique group that they'll be able to see the plot. (fingers crossed)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

What a great lesson! I am going to post "Plot is not the same thing as a premise" near my writing table. :-)

Myrna Foster said...

Does my manuscript have a plot? Does it have too much plot? Is there an award for you on my blog today?

Thanks for sharing this, Shelley!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks for the reminder as to why I outline. :D

So true about the pride. If you can't let go of it (and your ego), your writing will never get better, and you'll never be published. AND you'll never survive the reviewers.

Dena Daw said...

Great post shelley!

It's so true, when I finally opened myself up to critiques my writing improved dramatically. I am working on a novel now and I'm scared to show it to my critique group, but this has encouraged me!

Jackee said...

Aw, come on, we want to see it. It will be a LEARNING experience for us. (Hee, hee.)

Yesterday I picked up one of your early readers for my daughter at the library and was so happy to tell what an awesome person the writer is.

And this is awesome advice. Nonwriters can't understand how I can shelf a novel I've spent years on and not look back. Everytime it doesn't work out, I learn so much and I hope someday I can smile at them as you do!

Have a happy Wednesday!

PJ Hoover said...

Good for you for trying. That's the most important part. It's all part of the journey.
Thank you for sharing!

Amy Tate said...

Wow - I needed to read this. I received a rejection letter today that made me cringe. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever looked at anything I've written without cringing! Even my published work - I still can't turn off the editor mode. But you're so right. We learn from those sort of letters and I need to remember that. I can't expect to get it right the first time! Thank you for the reminder!

storyqueen said...

Tess-I think I have learned the lesson about premise vs plot...and try not to get embarrassed by my mistakes. But I think in life you have to own your mistakes if you are to grow from them, you know?

Kelly-I am such a chicken in so many ways, it's nice to take risks in at least one area of my life.

Lydia-Well, if you are searching from a plot, that's at least kind of a premise...:)

Tricia-Seriously, if I don't cut myself a little slack, nobody else will!!! And I bet your fiction is growing by leaps and bounds.

Jessie-Of course! Of course! You must have a's only me that struggles with the lack of one, I'm sure.

LT-That was the hardest lesson for me to learn: that you're only as good as your next piece of writing.

Sharon-You probably have nothing to worry about!

Myrna-thank you for the award! And I am now wondering if it is possible to have too much plot.....? Better too much than too little...

Stina-You rascally little outliner, you! Must be nice.

Dena-That's the hardest thing, opening up to the possibility of non-success...

Jackee-Yay! Yay! Tell your daughter hi! And I never really look back at writing. I like to think looking forward makes me better.

PJ-Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Amy-Sorry about the rejection..but maybe everything will end up for the best. Don't be so hard on yourself!! You will be amazing, I am sure of it!

Elana Johnson said...

I love this post. It is so true. Writers take risks every single day and somehow we learn how to handle the rejection and anxiety that comes with that lifestyle.

Janet Johnson said...

Great story! My very first book was like that. No plot. None. Terrible.

I'm glad I'm not the only one. Thanks for sharing.

Nishant said...

Thankfully you can keep getting better and keep at it.
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