Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Writer's Block"

Yeah, I know that I haven't blogged much recently but that's not the kind of block I'm talking about. I'm looking down the barrel of the kind of "block" that stands in the path of anyone who wants to write . . . to be heard . . . but can never achieve their writing dream.

I've been here before . . . starting the long process of trying to get something in the hands of a publisher.

It is a little like my dreams at age 14 of playing in the NBA. There's an innocence at first where you really think that goal is within your reach . . . if you cross your t's, and dot your i's and work hard. But then, as you mature, you realize that about a million of other young boys share the same basketball dream and only a handful make it.

Writing is no different. There's a lot of great writers out there and even more qualified writer-wannabes. I can't count how many English profs I've known, who (like Mr. Holland and is Opus) had dreams of writing that great novel . . . but never realizing it. I know that there are many great writers lurking even here. So it makes me think, why do I even try?

People enjoy writing for a variety of reason. I can honestly say that there is nothing that I enjoy more than sitting in a coffee shop and writing on a manuscript. I do love being out doors. Today I've biked and climbed a small mountain. Last night I went for a wonderful sunset kayak with Denise in Puget Sound (the Olympics were purple in the wake of the sinking sun). I really do like being outside . . . but I have an actual passion for putting my thoughts into words.

I think my pleasure in wrapped up in the fact that I am a deep thinker, but not that articulate in the spoken word. I don't know if that bottleneck of the spoken is a function of social anxiety or just a lack in the gift of gab.

I feel this great pent up desire to communicate the ideas that are constantly circulating inside this thin skull. But even writing does not come easily for me, at least not the mechanics of it. I do have a form of dyslexia plus I'm the product of the Appalachian school system of the 60s and 70s (where double negatives were taught as proper forms of the King's English). I'm trying to make excuses but just stating facts. For these reasons blatant typos can slip right past me . . . even though I know better.

I have had the opportunity to publish about 30 journal articles over the years. Those came with minimal effort and it was rewarding to have thousands reading what you were thinking inside your head just a few weeks before.

I have published a couple of books, but those were self-published. The first one I self-published when I gave up on this form of "Writer's Block." That book made it to about 23,000 on Amazon's list for about a week. . . and that might be the best I ever do. The last one I chose to self-publish from the start. But my dog could self-publish a book if she had a credit card in her name.

I was hoping that this time would be easier. I carefully chose the best literary agent that I could find for my manuscript. I've read two books on how to present you work . . . starting with a simple query letter to the agent. I've read an entire book devoted to how to write that one page query letter, upon which the agent will give you a thumbs up . . . or a thumb to the throat. This is where it seems unfair . . . but it's not. What would the NBA be if it had two million mediocre players?

The last time I tried to get published was back in the mid nineties. That time I went straight to the publishers. It was so frustrating because those who were so generous to actually write back said things across the spectrum. "Your manuscript is too long," "Your manuscript is too short," yada yada yada.

I just got my first rejection letter, the first of many more to come. I have to be humble, a learner . . . constantly tweaking the query letter until someone lets me in the door long enough to hear my song and watch me dance.

I do wish that real life played out like the big screen . . . at least sometimes. Where you write your book and someone, without asking, sneaks it into the mail and the next thing you know, the owner of some great publishing house is knocking on your door with a big check.

I have no desire to write to get rich, but to have enough income from writing that I could sit in that coffee shop all day (between bike rides and mountain climbs) and think . . . think and write. But maybe that's what God has stored for me in the new world to come. Sitting above Lake Como (in Italy) in a cafe writing and thinking and dreaming.


Anonymous said...

Have you looked into sending it to Windblown Media (publishers of The Shack)?

Hoping you become an NBA player...

MJ said...

I'll look into it.

It is a strange thing, if you approach many literary agents, and if they get any inkling that you are evangelical (and they can make huge assumptions really quickly), they don't want to touch you with a ten-foot mark-up pen.

But if you go to a so called "Christian" Publisher or literary agent, then you are even more of an outcast . . . that is if you make any attempts to talk about reality.

Anna A said...

Have you considered trying the Catholic route, at least to the agent stage?

I'm a member of the yahoo group, CWO, (catholicwritersonline) and they have had threads about agents, etc.

MJ said...

Anna, I'm certainly open to it. Do you know any Catholic agents? I just read through the guide to Literary agents. I saw a few Evangelicals . . .but didn't seen any that promoted themselves as a Catholic. However, maybe Catholics don't wear their spiritual perspectives on their sleeves.

Anna A said...

No, I don't because I never got that far into my writing. Besides poetry never sells.

Anonymous said...

Try making inquiries through the Lost Genre Guild. My editor on both ISIG1 & 2 (Karina Fabian) is Catholic.

Unfortunately, getting an agent of any sort is an uphill struggle. The big mainstream publishers and their agents have pretty much become a closed shop/closed union arrangement, and the small presses (the farm teams) willing to take new talent don't pay much.

My writing partner (a burned-out UBC minister) agrees with you re Christian (TM) publishers and target market. He's said it looks like he'll have to write "Catholic" to write the Christian stories he wants to tell.

Headless Unicorn Guy