literary agents

Good is Good Enough

I spent yesterday afternoon writing copy for my website.

Seeing as how this is a chore that's been hanging over my head for a year, it felt good to finish it.  And the way I finished it was to tell myself that good was good enough.

It didn't have to be perfect, I told myself.  It didn't have to be the most brilliant copy ever written.  It just had to be done.  And it had to be good enough.  And so it was.

Perhaps it sounds strange and counter intuitive for me to say that.

After all, we writers tend to be a perfectionist lot. And in order to get the attention of an editor or agent, our prose has to be perfect.

I agree.  I've argued this point many a time with civilians (aka, non-writers), who wonder why I obsess over making sure that my novel manuscript is as perfect as it can be.  "It doesn't matter," friends have argued.  "Because if they like the story, they won't mind a few typos here and there.  They'll clean it up for you."


What they will do, however, is take one look at the typos and pitch the manuscript over their shoulder, never to be looked at again.  Agents and editors are far too busy to waste their time on someone who submits a less than perfect manuscript.  This holds true for literary agents, book editors, and all those magazine editors who you're sending your articles and essays to.

So here I am, contradicting myself.

With good reason, because there's a difference between web copy which, at least for me, is going to change as my business changes, and a novel which is going to be published without changes for many years (if I should be so lucky).  There's a difference between a blog post, which is meant to reflect a certain dailiness of life, and a carefully crafted magazine article.

But it is more than that, too.  It is the way we hold ourselves back from the page because we're afraid its not going to be perfect.  The way we refuse to start that novel because it feels like such a long, long way to the finished form.  The way we never get around to starting the business because we're afraid to put ourselves out there.

The finished novel goes through many good enough drafts before the final one is reached.  Blog posts can be edited even after they are posted.  A website can be changed and added to and subtracted from. 

Many a creative project and idea has been stifled by perfectionism.  So don't let that happen.  Instead, allow things to be good enough.  And then take them to a new level of good enough.  And another, and another, until you have something that truly sparkles and shines.


When is good, good enough for you?

Putting Joy Back Into It

I've been slogging through the "final" rewrite of my novel lately.  

Its a funny thing with working on a long extended piece over time, such as a novel or a memoir.  You rearrange one chapter and this rearrangement uncovers other things that need attention.  Thus, more work and more rewriting.

As the days I've allotted for the rewrite stretch into weeks and then months, my will flags.  I want to get this novel published more than anything in the world.  It has been a lifelong goal to be a novelist.  And I think I have a better shot at it with this one than ever before.

But, dear lord, I'm tired of working on it.

The thing is, I also see that this rewrite is making my book into the novel it truly was meant to be.  With every rewrite, the novel's characters become truer and the plot gets stronger.   Civilians (ie, non-writers) tell me that if an agent likes it, he or she will forgive all the problems and take me on. But I know that the publishing world has always been a tough nut to crack, and now even more so now.  While it is tempting to take the civilians' well-meaning advice, throw up my hands and just send it out, as is, I'm holding out to finish this one last rewrite.  I know that agents look for the smallest excuse not to take on a client.  I know we have to send in our absolute best work.  And I'm willing.

But for the last couple of weeks, I've had to flog myself to work on it.  Honestly, it is hard enough to fit in time to work on the novel when I'm excited about it, but when the joy is gone its nearly impossible.    (The great irony in all of this, of course, is that I teach and coach this stuff–how to make time to write, no matter where you are in the process.)

But this morning, I felt it again–that joy.  The energy, the connection, the lift off the page to my heart. So, how did I get it back?  And how can you?  When I stopped to think about why this might have happened, I realized that I did, in fact, have some suggestions.

1.  Show up at the page.  This is far and away the most important thing.  There's a famous quote by Woody Allen, something to the effect that "90% of success is just showing up." So true.  Some days I showed up and sat and stared, but such effort is eventually rewarded with a flow of words.  The universe and the muses look kindly upon consistency.

2.  Take a break.  I know, I know, contradictory advice.  First I tell you to show up, then I tell you to not show up.  What I'm advocating here is taking a planned break.  Allow yourself to get totally and completely away from it without guilt and do something replenishing. (Julia Cameron calls it the artist's date.)  The key here is the planning.   I fall into the bad habit daily of taking an accidental break by checking out the latest news on the internet.  But  this is far less renewing than if I actually stepped away from the computer and took a planned break.  Figure out what relaxes and renews you and then go do it.  You can take a big break–like a whole morning off–or a little break, like a quick walk around the block.

3.  Accept you are in a different place.  If you are in the rewriting phase, like me, It is not the initial place of invention and excitement, but rather an area of discernment and editing.  If you need invention and excitement, take notes for another project.  Being in this different place you are not necessarily going to feel the joy of creation as when you first began it.  For me, just realizing this in a conscious manner paved the way to get back to work.

So those are my suggestions and if anyone has any more, I'd love to hear them.  All of this pondering on getting the joy back has brought up another topic in my mind, namely, when is it time to quit the tinkering and let it go? 

Ah, but that is a subject for another time.

Rejection: Tempting the Fates

So, I wrote a post about Michael Phelps last week and how he used rejection and ridicule (who's laughing now, twitty teenagers who made fun of him?  Huh? Huh?) to spur himself on.  I mentioned that perhaps we writers could take a page from ol' Michael's book and use that same technique when we get rejected ourselves.

Ah, the universe is such a trickster.

Because it was only a few short days later that I got a rejection from an agent. 

This wasn't a nice rejection, where the agent makes a few pithy suggestions about how to improve the novel.  It wasn't even a rejection that was signed by the agent.  It was a flippin' form letter. 

I haven't gotten a form letter rejection in ages.  To make matters worse, this particular agent is known for representing many of the mentors and alumni of the MFA program I attended. 

And I get a flippin' form letter from her.

The funny thing is, I found the letter in the stack of mail and I knew.  First of all, the  SASEs are a dead give-away and immediately recognizable.  But I swear, the energy of the rejection was contained on the envelope itself, and I knew without even opening it what the result was going to be.

I whined and moaned a bit on Twitter and my tweeples cheered me up.  And then I realized I'd written that post about Michael Phelps and loftily suggested we all emulate him when it came to rejection.

So now I'm going to.  Watch out New York publishing world, cuz I'm mad!  I'm angry, and I'm inspired and, just like Michael (I think we can all call him Michael now, don't you?) I'm going to use this anger to fuel my success.

Oh, there's just one drawback that occurs to me.  Michael can train harder, swim harder, eat more calories for breakfast and go out there and break records all by his little own self.  I can write harder, write better, send my novel out more, obsess about eating too much for breakfast, and I still can't necessarily achieve success all by my little own self.  I need an agent. 

That's the rub about the publishing industry and the film biz–you can put your heart and soul into it and still you have to rely on someone else to recognize your brilliance. 

So I guess all I can do is do my best and work my hardest and let the universe, trickster that it is non-withstanding, make things happen.

And be grateful I don't have to spend hours every day swimming.  I love my man Michael, but I'm the worst swimmer in the world.