Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Glimpse into my Tormented Mind

For the past few days, my mind has been churning over the subject of concept, or ideas. My friend Kiersten actually wrote a post on the matter today, and it got me thinking.

Her stance is: work is what it all boils down to. Good, old fashioned hard work. And who am I to disagree? Indeed, I think few of us writers who are savvy enough to be reading/writing blogs are so deluded as to think that an idea alone will bring success. Work is a given. Good, old fashioned hard work.

However, I'm pushing the issue a little harder. Let's really get down to nitty gritties. No easy, quick answers. Also, this post honestly isn't a masked plea for encouragement, so (as much as I appreciate you, truly) there's no need to interpret my remarks that way. What I really want is a fresh, hard thinking discussion.

By reading agent blogs, books on writing, and various other sources, I found that most editors/agents are looking for two simple things.

-Brilliant writing

-Great concept

Ideally, they want both, but if a submission shines in one or the other, it's probably enough.

Now, I'm going to make a perhaps harsh assessment. I'm going to say that nearly everyone reading this is relatively new to this field (and by new, I mean that we haven't been steadily working on our craft for ten years+.) Now because of this, I'm going to assume that none of us have reached a "brilliant" level of writing skill yet. I know I haven't.

So what's left? Concept.

"But hard work," you are saying. "With hard work you can get both!" Well, of course. Remember, I stated very clearly at the beginning of this post that work is vital. But, who says I'm not working hard? I'm here to tell you I am. I work late into the night most days. When I can't be at the computer I'm constantly thinking about, making notes about my stories in my Moleskine. I'm working. HARD.

Guess what? There are THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of aspiring writers out there who are working their butts off as well.

So what sets a story apart? Concept.

Somehow, I just can't find a reasonable way to dismiss this argument. To me, a great concept, the kind that make people say, "Oh!" is the thing that can push us over the edge. A great concept is what gives your story that X Factor.

That's really the key. That X Factor. A story can be good. Very good, even. And you can work until your fingers bleed to make it great. But like I said, there are THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of writers out there, all doing the same thing. Without a great concept, you might just be spinning your wheels.

So, my concluding question is this. Is there something sacred about a completed novel? Does writing the words "The End" commit you to seeing the editing/revision process all the way through? All the way to the acceptable 100 query rejections? Or should we look at each novel as a learning experience? Should we take what we need to take from it, and wait until we really have something great to put our all into?

I don't know the answer to these questions. I really don't. This is just what has been spinning around in my mind lately. I truly would love to hear what you think.


Diana said...

You make a good point. I relate it to what I know, art. You can work 100 years on a painting but if it is just another pretty still life it may never make it into the MOMA. "Skills" can be taught and worked and trained, but the "x factor" comes when the Muses decide.

Natalie said...

So here's the thing. You mentioned that every writer is working to better their prose. Try asking an agent how many books they see that are written well enough to make it. My bet is not that many (as per these agent blogs, they see a lot of crap).

Writers *think* they are doing everything they can, I truly believe that, and maybe they are for their particular skill level. That's what I thought too—I've never given anything but 100%. But honestly, sometimes you just can't see that you're really giving 75%.

Sometimes writers just don't know how much MORE they can and need to do. And it's not about how much you work, but what you work on. Line editing your prose 20 times will get you nowhere if you need to evaluate a flawed character arc or a misstep in plot.

So it's terribly inaccurate to say that every writer out there has clean prose and it's all about the idea. I had the ideas—got TOLD I had the ideas—and still got my shiny little rejection emails in my inbox. Why? Because I wasn't putting the work into my ideas to make them shine.

What have I learned? Treat every idea like it's The One. A lot of writers put in a half ass effort (raises hand) the second a shiny new idea distracts them.

Imagine if we're talking relationships—you're just gonna ditch your man at the first sign of trouble? Or are you gonna tough it out and make it work?

Of course that depends on the realtionship, but it seems like a lot of writers are fickle and shallow (raises hand) and just looking for the "perfect" idea.

Relationships aren't just easy and blissful—even the beautiful ones filled with love and respect. They take work to look like that. And your brilliant ideas take work to look brilliant.

You can't really know "when to set something aside" until you pick a project and put everything—your entire soul—into it. That when you see how much there is to give and gauge other projects accordingly.

Good luck figuring all this out, Ren. It's not an easy process, but I know that you'll figure it out.

Lady Glamis said...

Listen to the WISE Natalie. She has been my Guide, as she puts it, and I've finally realized that until I put my soul into Monarch it's not going to get ANYWHERE. Now that I know this, it's actually getting somewhere.

I rarely get good ideas - or a great concept, as you say. They come far and in between. So when Monarch finally came, I knew I had to work my butt off to make it WORK. I'm still trying to make it work, and it's practically killing me. The idea is great, but without what I'm putting this thing through (and MYSELF through), it would never get anywhere, and I would never get published.

The more I work and shred and rewrite and edit the few good concepts I have, the better writer I become. This means that the next few great concepts I get, the better I'll be able to execute them. More efficiently, I hope!

Anyway, I could go on and on, but in the end, I disagree that a great concept is what sets apart the story. It's CRAFT that sets it apart, for me. Without a great execution, that concept means nothing - and will never be seen as great.

Just my thoughts and discussion, as you requested. *HUGS*

Renee Collins said...

Thanks for joining the discussion, you guys. I was definitely feeling a little mental today, (to coin the British slang.)

Diana-Very true. Skill is something that potentially everyone can obtain, but obviously, everyone isn't going to have success. There has to be another factor.

Natalie-I definitely agree that you can't know if something can be set aside until you've really given it it's best chance. Very good point.

Michelle-Craft is important. Definitely true. I don't disagree with you there. I guess it just seems more vague to me to know when that is good, as opposed to a story concept, which seems fairly simple to see if it's catchy or not.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to add something to the mix here and that's connections. Let's face it, there are a lot of books out there that are crap. Any one of you could write a better story. I'm not saying that I'm a better writer than the people who wrote them, but I'm an avid reader, and I can tell the difference. So why do those ideas get put on a shelf? A couple of reasons in my opinion. One, just like there are varing degrees of talent in the writing world, there are varying degrees in the agent and editing world. Two, connections. Some people are connected. So being published is not necessarily the mark of a genius idea or incredible prose, sometimes it's just luck or schmoozing. On the other hand, I would say that a book is rarely sustainably successful if it is not either extremely well written, or a freaking awesome concept. (In my opinion Twilight falls into the second category. And SM hardly had to work at all to write that book.) In the end people have to want to buy the book and then continue to buy more. The exception to this would be authors who have gained great name recognition and have followers who will buy whatever they put out. But even they had to gain those followers at some point.

Natalie said...

Candice makes an interesting point about SM, but look how that turned out. Sure, she got published off of a great idea, but now everyone dogs on her because the writing "isn't there."

Honestly, that would hurt my feeling SO BAD. Everyone ignores the brilliance of her idea because the writing supposedly doesn't match it. If anything, I'm going to work on my prose just so people can't attack me like that. And heck, they probably still will. But at least I'll know I did my best.

Travis Erwin said...

I always do what I can to a finished MS to give it a legitimate shot at publication, but sadly it has never been enough. I think each pone gets better yet at the same time I think the market gets tougher and tougher.

Renee Collins said...

Candice-A very good point! Connections make the world go round. It sucks for someone like me, with none. (although I may have some pretty good ones soon . . . :) )

You've definitely made me amend my opinion. Luck and connections. Those are (sadly) huge.

Natalie-So true. I've said it before, I've never considered myself a Twilight fan, but I feel very defensive of Meyer. It's like, come on people, she just wrote a book that she loved. I'm positive she never imagined in her wildest dreams that it would be so big.

Travis-Yes, as much as I'd love to think of some foolproof formula, the market is just getting tougher. I guess the only thing to do is fight harder.

Thanks for joining the discussion. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and Natalie on the whole Stephenie Meyer thing. Success came so fast that she really didn't have time to hone her craft. I actually think that The Host was very well written (I know you may disagree), but overall I feel that it was a better reflection of her ability as a writer.

Natalie said...

Actually, Candi, I really enjoyed The Host. It was still a touch long for my taste, but I really did like it a lot.

Anonymous said...

Good to know. :) Now we can be Host friends too. And I agree it was over-written in places. It could have been just as good condensed a bit.

Tara said...

I think sometimes you have to move beyond your personal feelings for a manuscript to really see it. When you're passionate about the idea, you think it's brilliant--love is blinding. Once you get past that passion, you hit the real work stage. I think most writers start submitting while they are still "in love" with their work.

glovin said...

I rarely get good ideas - or a great concept, as you say. They come far and in between. So when Monarch finally came

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