Old Moon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's a Writer to Do?

It seems presumptuous and even foolish to be writing a blog about writing. No one who would bother to read it would have missed the mantras that are supposed to help us "get published." You know: write every day, submit, enter contests, write a blog, network, don't give up, write what you know, enter contests, don't just write what you know, you always need a "hook," enter contests...on and on. If those instructions were all it takes to see your work (and I do mean "work") in print, there would be an even bigger glut of e-books and print books and screen plays and poetry than there is now.

Some day there's going to be somebody who will honestly want to know why you write. Maybe it's worth considering what your answer will be--worth thinking seriously about it. My guess is that a survey would reveal a relatively small number of answers.

Then there's the entering contests question. Of course, if you should happen to win one, there's the satisfaction of a small success (unless, of course, you just won a nationwide  one with a big monetary prize and publication by Random House). Do you enter contests depending on who runs them, on the size of the entry fee, on who is familiar to you who has won it before, in hopes an agent or publisher will notice you? Or do you do it because it's on the list of things every wannabe has to do?

There's a pretty interesting website on which a book on how to win writing contests is regularly advertised. I admit to being tempted. Then it occurs to me that unless you have some knowledge of the judge(s), or are just plain clairvoyant, your entry is in the same category as weekly lottery tickets. Maybe the odds aren't quite as long, but pretty nearly. The author of the book on how to win must be willing and able to be a chameleon. Either you have a voice of your own or you don't, or you're able to imitate someone else's voice. Here I'm using that word the way literary critics like to: meaning the diction and themes that distinguish you and your work from others'. Even if you write so-called "genre" material, we all know it will be better than the run-of-the-mill if only you could have written it, and a reader can spot that right away.

Whether it's contests or just getting published without paying for it, you're up against fashion, the difficulty of reaching the right audience, and, let's face it: how good you are at what you do. It's certain that not enough writers who are exceptionally good ever get the audience they deserve. So that part of the list of "Dos" for writers that says "Never Give Up" is the hardest one to remember.


Glenda C. Beall said...

You said it well, Joan. Sending to contests seems much like buying a lottery ticket. I submit to a few, but I am one who looks at the reading fee and if it is fifteen dollars or more, I skip that contest. I don't care about the money I would win if my poems were selected. I enter because I want to be published in a certain publication. Well, that is what I used to do.
Now, I send my poetry where I think someone might appreciate it and share it with their readers. No matter whether it is a "fine" literary journal or one that is obscure. I just want to communicate my thoughts and feelings to readers who will like my work.

JLC said...

Of course, you're right. But I seem to have this (Puritan?) streak that makes me feel guilty about not even covering the entry fees and the costs involved with writing when I get no monetary return at all. Makes me wonder if I should just stop trying to get readers to pay attention. Yet, it's a true compulsion. Thanks for reading these comments so faithfully!