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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Article: Paying Dues

by Patrice Moore

Don’t you hate reading about first-time authors who, when asked how long they’ve been writing, will say something like “Oh, about six months.” Or maybe it’s two years. Perhaps even five years.

Me? It’s been seventeen years.

Boy that’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. I know it because my husband and I had our seventeenth wedding anniversary this year, and I started writing just after we were married.
Seventeen years of writing and submitting and getting rejected. Again and again and again. I have twenty-one complete manuscripts gathering dust, figuratively speaking, in my desk drawer.

Why did I do it? Why did I keep writing in the face of nearly two decades of being told my writing wasn’t up to snuff?

Because I’m a writer, that’s why. And wow, does it feel great to say that. I can call myself a writer at last.

In The Beginning...

…In the beginning I read a badly-written romance novel and thought, “This is terrible. Even I can write better than that.” My husband encouraged me to put my money where my mouth was, so I did. I wrote a book called Sands of Kismet (a desert romance) full of every possible writing error known to romance.

Except, of course, I thought it was brilliant. I submitted it. It got rejected.

Next came The Art of Deception. Again, brilliant. Again, submitted. Again rejected.

Next came Snow Bound. Brilliant. Submitted. Rejected.

A Faire to Remember. Brilliant. Submitted. Rejected.

I didn’t just submit each manuscript once and suffer a single rejection, either. NoooOOOooo. Masochist that I am, I tweaked each rejected manuscript and submitted it again elsewhere. My rejections span the globe. I have whole file folders full of rejection letters. Stacks. Mounds. Veritable mountains.

Again, why did I do it? Why did I suffer through so many years of discouraging comments with nothing to show for it?

Because I’m a writer, that’s why. It still feels great to say that.

Seeing the Light

Now of course, my writing improved over those seventeen years because, let’s be frank, it was so bad that it could only have gone uphill. I go back to my original version of Sands of Kismet and I want to gag. If there was an error to be made in that story, I made it.

Point of view head-hopping. Telling not showing. Backstory dump. Story arc. Internal and external conflicts. Excessive verbiage (purple prose). Waaaay too many adverbs. Whole chapters that did nothing to advance the plot. The laundry list of technical and stylistic errors went on and on.

At first I either could not or did not understand what people were saying about my bad writing. After all, if you don’t recognize your own mistakes, you can’t know how to fix them (talk about a Catch-22).

And I am, apparently, a slow learner.

But here’s the important thing: I did learn. Slowly, snail-like, I began to decipher the cryptic comments made by editors, agents, and critique partners.

Usually I could count on one new breakthrough in understanding per manuscript. So if I have twenty-one manuscripts tucked in my drawer, then figure twenty-one Big Writing Mistakes that I finally learned to fix.

It’s a Business

Those years weren’t wasted though. During all those years of garnering rejections, I learned not just the craft of writing; I also learned the business of writing.

It goes without saying that I’ve been a member of RWA for years. I became whiz-bang at writing query letters. I’m not too bad with a synopsis (though I hate ’em, of course – who doesn’t?). I got burnt with a bad agent and thereafter learned to research agents carefully. I carved out daily writing time despite my busy schedule.

All these things are critical for a writer to know. (Did you hear that? I’m a writer. It still thrills me to say I’m a writer!) You might have the most brilliant manuscript this side of Nora Roberts, but if your queries are clumsy, rude, and amateurish, then your manuscript will never be requested and your brilliance will never be known.


And finally, I got my breakthrough. An editor at The Wild Rose Press picked up Saving Grace, my favorite manuscript. She actually (get this) thought it was brilliant. I got a (gasp) contract. I saw my name in print. Believe me, the thrill still hasn’t faded.

And that back-log of manuscripts sitting in my drawer? Some will never see the light of day. But others were salvageable. Now that I know what I’ve done wrong, I find I have some manuscripts that only need some tweaking and actually can become printable. Wow.

I have four books under contract now with The Wild Rose Press, a publisher that will have my eternal gratitude for recognizing the unrecognized WRITER within me. (Didja hear that? Writer! It still thrills me to say I’m a writer!)

And you know what’s nice about this long journey? I’m older now, I know my craft, and I can take things in stride. Occasionally if a newbie writer gushes something flattering to me, I feel experienced and mature. I've paid my dues. I've done my time. It's kinda neat.

And finally – finally! – I got some business cards printed up that say I’m a WRITER.

Just for validation, y’know.

About the Author: About the Author: Patrice Moore lives on a forty-acre homestead in north Idaho with her husband and two daughters. She does what she calls the three H’s: Homesteading, Homeschooling, and Home Business-ing. Visit her website to learn something about her lifestyle and writing.

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