So You Think You Can Write

— January 12, 2011 (8 comments)
Cindy and I are going through last season's So You Think You Can Dance (one of the drawbacks(/benefits) of living out here: we miss a lot of TV). She watches it for the dancing, of course. Being as I'm totally clueless on the subject, I watch it for the characters.

Seriously, except for the hilarious weeding-out rounds, all the dancers look good to me. The judges' critiques for me are like:

Nigel: You need to bring more passion to your work.
Me: ?
Mia: You don't have that quiet fire this dance style needs.
Me: ?
Adam: Try lengthening your strides more.
Me: Oh.....yeah, totally.

But even though the critiques are lost on me, I've realized something. The finalists really are very good dancers, but the judges are looking for more than that. Some maybe-undefinable quality that makes them stand out.

For those of us eyeing traditional publication, it's very much the same. Lots of writers are good, but our judges are looking for more -- a fresh voice, a tight concept, a unique look at a hot issue...something that edges you above the rest.

Being good is just a baseline.

I know that's not very encouraging,* but look at it this way: it will stretch you. For me, that's one reason I keep going (and the reason I haven't self-published). If you really want this, and if you don't quit, this process will make you a better writer than you ever thought possible, published or not.

Heck, if you can understand the critiques, you're probably most of the way there.

* I'm something of a realist. If you ask me whether the cup is half empty or half full, I'll tell you how many milliliters there are and wonder why you didn't just measure it yourself.

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  1. Personality is more important than polish... though polish helps reveal the personality. I need more ugh and less huh... you know what I mean?

  2. Your footnote cracked me up.

    And I think that's why I haven't self-published. That dancer didn't know he needed to lengthen his strides. A lot of times you can't see the things you need to work on. If a publisher's not willing to take a chance on my book, I take that as a clue I need to continue learning.

  3. I'm a huge fan of striving for excellence. But even the dancers that don't make the final cut in So You Think You Can Dance? have worthwhile art to share. And hopefully not making the cut won't discourage them into giving up. After all, they've danced for years, and will keep learning if they keep striving.

    I probably haven't convinced you to consider small publishing (yet), but my fellow small-press-author Michelle Davidson Argyle has an interesting post series Should I Consider a Small Publisher? (full disclosure: I'm in it) I'm still learning how publishing really works, but it helps to see where other authors are finding success.

  4. This is an excellent point. I used to hate this whole side of getting published, for about the first year or so I was trying to do it. But then I realized it was all part of the process, and it truly has made me a better writer.

  5. You're going to find an agent that loves Azrael's Curse, Adam, someone who sells it because they can't stop talking about it. It's almost there.

    I think agents and editors help bring out a writer's "passion" and "quiet fire," when they have something great to work with. You miss out on that with self-publishing.

  6. @Sherri: Exactly. If I had self-published after my first 60 rejections, I'd never have learned what I know now (or maybe I would, but not for years and years).

    @Susan: That is a really good point, Susan. We can't all win, but even the competition's losers go on to do different things. I AM considering small publishing, but I've got to try the agents at least one more time.

    @Myrna: You just keep making my day! I anxiously await your critique :-)

  7. Firstly, I <3 SYTYCD even though I don't understand half the critiques either.

    But I think you have a very valid point-- it's the extra oomph that we need to have to make the difference. And so we push until we get there.

    I absolutely agree that you don't usually know what you need to work on, though-- hence my current frustration with the whole process. I completely understand form rejects/ no-response-means-no rejects. I get it. But it sucks because I'm the type of person who's so willing to learn, willing to teach myself what I need to know, that if I KNEW what was wrong, I would work at it.

    Ah, the catch-22 of publishing. You have to be good enough to be noticed before they'll tell you what you're doing wrong.

    Sorry-- didn't mean to turn this into a mini rant. Sigh.

    Keep trucking, Adam, I know you'll make it :)

  8. Your footnote. It's brilliant. :D

    I watch So You Think You Can Dance kind of obsessively -- it's the only talent show I can stand -- and I also love comparing thinsg to writing... and puzzling over the critiques. Sometimes, I completely see what they're going for. Other times, I kind of tilt my head and squint before giving up entirely. (If you watched the US season -- I absolutely didn't get their critiques to Adéchiké and Billy.)