Went out to lunch with my buddy Deb yesterday. We don’t get together nearly often enough, but it’s always fun to do, because Deb is one of the few commercially published authors I know that is also a great friend of mine AND local enough to have lunch with regularly, and who is willing to talk shop enthusiastically.
There was a thing that went around the writing blogs not that long ago about the difficulty of acquiring good mid-career advice. Part of it is that is just that everybody’s mid-career is weirdly different, and part of it is that the internet is chock-full of stuff about GETTING published–manuscript preparation and query letter advice and any number of people who will happily read the entrails of your latest rejection letter to try and eke obscure meaning from it*–but it drops off rapidly after that.
(Not that you could say either Deb or I are mid-career–my first large-press book was published three years ago, by which standards I am barely a puppy, and Deb has had three different names, has hit the bestseller list on multiple occasions and you could fit the advances for all seven Dragonbreath books into what she gets for a single paperback. )
I honestly kinda wonder if it’s because many blog writers don’t want to offend their readers. For so many people, publication is the great goal, and it seems almost unkind to say “Yes, yes, I’ve achieved the dream, but this bit still sucks!” The my-diamond-shoes-are-too-tight problem.
And partly, of course, it’s just boring. I suspect that many people think writers get together and seriously discuss the craft of writing. Maybe some do, I dunno, but I’m not one of them. Far as I’m concerned, the actual writing is between you and your keyboard and your god. Deb and I, out at lunch, spend the whole meal discussing our print runs vs. advance vs. earning out, gossiping about who jumped publishers, why they did it, why that may or may not have been a horrible mistake, which publisher’s got the best royalty statements (Answer: Penguin) what idiots we’ve dealt with lately, obnoxious editor X who seems to believe that writers get paid to do absolutely nothing, how hard it is to find good health insurance, heavens this waiter is cute, stupid people who think that if they can properly manipulate social media, they will somehow become an amazing bestseller, whether talent is enough (it isn’t) or if dumb luck is crucial (it totally is) name dropping at recent conventions, who bought Kirkus, do authors realize that Library Journal and Publishers Weekly are run by a pair of lovely older Jewish ladies, publishing hardcover in romance vs. kid’s comics, and who do we have to blow to get the check around here?
Discussion of the actual CRAFT of writing consists mostly of “Plotting this one is killing me. I’ve done four 1000-piece puzzles.” (Deb’s plotting method involves doing jigsaw puzzles and working it over in her head. Four puzzles is quite dire.) and “Okay, I gotta get home, the book’s not gonna draw itself.”
I don’t think we’re unusual. Every author lounge I’ve been in at a book festival is full of discussion of cats, taxes, how could so-and-so have been such an ass to Peter S. Beagle, is that an open bar? Really? Dude! Swanky! and occasionally “Check out the cover on my new book!” You want to talk about actual writing, go to a workshop.
I imagine this probably holds true for other careers, too. (Hmm, probably not EMTs. I bet they get together and tell the worst scraping-off-the-pavement stories they can think of…mind you, I could be wrong.)
*Don’t do this. Save yourself the grief. An editor is a human being, generally overworked, almost always pressed for time, and odds are good that they are honestly not putting that much thought into your rejection letter. If they say “It’s just not for us,” all it means is “it’s just not for us.” There is no hidden meaning lurking in the space between sentences. If you keep poring over it, you will not discover the secret code that unlocks the halls of publishing. I swear.