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Enhance Your Writing

lunch time w/ a friend in junior high

“I don’t want any padding,” I say.

He looks away. He looks back. “I’m sorry. What are you looking for again?”

I didn’t expect a male salesperson for this, but I tell myself that it is no big deal. I’m a modern girl. And if women can be police officers and CEOs then men can work at Victoria Secret. “I just wanted one without any padding.”

I’ve already committed the sin of being taller than him. Now I want to make his job difficult. “It’s just usually in that size they have have something added,” he says. “You sure you don’t even want a…I mean a lot of women your size like–”

“I know. I know. But I really don’t.” I don’t want to explain. I’m already too tall and too flat, which means most of the time people assume I’m smart even though I never had the grades to back that up. In most men’s eyes, height and flatness equal intelligence. And none of that together equals a date.

He has to search a while. He finds what I want in a bottom drawer. These are not on the racks. “You’re sure this is what you want?” he says. “We’ve got–”

“This is fine,” I say. I concentrate more than necessary on the price tag. “Thanks.” Someone can like me the way I am, I want to say. That’s got to be better than thinking I’m something I’m not only to be disappointed. “Here’s my credit card,” I say. He looks as if he wants to tell me something I don’t want to hear, but I make a show of rearranging the cards in my wallet.

Don’t chase a market trend. Teenage vampires might be hot right now, but not everybody likes vampires and who knows what people will stand in line for next year. But certain things about fiction seem eternal. Certain qualities make a story marketable. I vaguely know what they are. They involve some agent somewhere saying like, “People love this stuff.” or “This has a built in fan base.” or “I can already see the book group possibilities.”

I look at my work and think, “I’m not really sure I can dress this up and take it out. Hell, I don’t know where to even take it to.” I suspect I’ve not written anything that is going to catch an agent’s eye, but I can’t imagine writing anything else.

Do you feel that what you write is natural to you? Are you trying to shape your work to fit a market? Are you conventional, quirky, or experimental? What about your work do you think will get you noticed?

12 thoughts on “Enhance Your Writing

  1. I’m writing what I want regardless of market. It doesn’t work to chase trends, like you said. I’ve tried writing things just because they might make me some money, but of course they never did because they lacked passion. Not that anything I’ve written WITH passion has made me any money, but…

    I trend toward conventional, I think, with quirky elements. My character interactions are the best part of my work, much better than story execution, so I imagine that is what will get me noticed.

  2. Personally – and that means squat because I’m not a writer or an agent or a publisher – but I believe you shouldn’t try to shape your writing to fit a market. I don’t think a writing goal should be to jump on a trend. Writing is an art, and real art stands on its own and starts trends, it doesn’t follow them.

    But that’s just me.

    Be who you are, write what you are, what you want – the fans will follow. 🙂 No padding!

  3. Perhaps I’ll be lucky – what I like to write (urban fantasy sans vamps and weres)) happens to be reasonably hot at the moment.
    Having raised four children I can assure you that light padding is wonderful no matter one’s size – for protection, not enhancement.

    • Well, good luck to you! I like urban fantasy whether it is hot or not. As for padding–this story happened ages ago. But I was mostly just annoyed at the supposed-to-ness of it.

  4. I have no idea if I have what an agent or publisher would want. It’s taken me years to be able to write what is natural to me, rather than be focused on something I think I “SHOULD” write because it is what should be written.

    Actually, I’m writing urban fantasy now, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s popular, but I’m not writing it because it is popular, I’m writing it because it is what I read and have read, for the last 25 years. Longer than fictional Bella has been alive. It’s a kick in the pants that the dorky reading habits of my youth are now so hot. And I’m not apologizing. I like it. So I’m writing it. (just so you know, I’m not talking to you here, but to myself, because I still get the ego surge of feeling like I should be writing “good” literature.)

    • How many of us don’t even know what is natural is to us? You’ve won a big battle there! Writing what happens to be popular is different than writing because you want to follow something popular. Your writing will be engaging because you feel passion for it. And I certainly understand the ego surge!

  5. A fun “thought experiment” is to imagine the classic authors we love — the ones who established the definitions of conventional, quirky, and experimental, either by being or not-being those things — to imagine them afflicted with these sorts of doubts.

    (Actually, now that I think about it, part of the “fun” lies in making them pay for what they’ve put us through with their example.)

    I mean, I don’t think I’ve read more than a handful of sentences written by — say — Samuel Johnson, even though I suspect I’d really like him and even though he’s probably influenced me, indirectly but significantly, by way of a whole chain of other writers of English. But I suspect that he didn’t (have to) freak out about market conditions. There was no “market” for him, or I guess anybody, not in the way we think of one. He probably just, well, wrote. I want desperately (without much hope that I’ll ever pull it off) to just, well, write. If that makes any sense.

    Really? I have approximately zero confidence in my writing. I do it, sure; it feels natural, yes, and when I’m “in the zone,” well, nothing feels better. But I have absolutely no idea if it’s really any good — if my stories actually make sense or will appeal to anyone. I hope they do (or will), because who wants to write in a vacuum? But again, no idea what the prospects might be. And I dread the moment when I have to hand it over to be fed into the marketplace machine.

    • I don’t think I can put myself through that thought experiment!

      You, however, should have more confidence in your writing. And don’t think machine. Think agent.

    • You are not a mediocre cliche. As for the attention…well, look at who gets attention most of the time. It’s not like these people are so brilliant–except perhaps at marketing.

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