There are categories of “writers,” depending on their prowess. Many who seek advice are those who often miss the point of the journey, to paraphrase Lao Tsu.
The first category is the aspirant, and is often the first to limit their ambition by shouting to the world that they are an “aspiring” writer. “Hello, I am an amateur. I would like to write something one day, but right now I only aspire to.” What the hell is that? Many of these I find haunting writers’ conferences with a notepad and a pen, enrolled in every little seminar, writing down “important” notes issued by the establishment as if the speeches were all Sermons on the Mount and Nicholas Sparks was Jesus.
These people never write a thing. Oh, they might begin to write a page or two, but most of the time they appear to be those idle people who just wish to wander around spewing cash, but, oh! They are here for a purpose! They wish to write something one day! I’m surprised how many of these people I come across.
The second category is the amateur writer who never gets it. They write. Oh, yes, they are feverish about their works and bless them for it! However, for reasons of lacking no talent, artistic observation, or just plain stubbornness, they never learn the fundamental style of writing. These are those who attend conferences, classes, and critique groups – are enthusiastic about their “profession,” but never achieve publication. Unfortunately, now with the advent of self-publishing online, many of these bottom-level writers can publish their lacking works and dilute the mastery of actually learning their craft. Maybe a few actually get some good reward from it and que sera sera….
This is why I’ve frowned on the convenience of self-publishing. Sure, the traditional markets often overlooked masterful works and possessed a snobbiness that outshines an MFA with his personal autographed picture of John Updike. The thing is, the convenience often grants nothing to force one of these writers to hone their words into something coherent enough to actually be an important literary work.
The third category is what I like to call the “working” writer. This is the fellow who could’ve written and self-published his own works, but he has a history of contracts from traditional markets that have bought his writings or agreed to represent him. This is an important writer in his way, because he has proven in a small way, perhaps, that his potential is something other people will be able to their name on and back him on spec. ON SPEC. On speculation. Many self-publishing Category Twos never realize that, even if they achieve good sales and a readership.
The fourth category of writer is generally the product. They may be talented; they may be the cream of the literary crop, but they have achieved such success that not only can they make a living at writing by itself, they are blockbusters. Bestsellers. They are those who become icons for their monetary if not literary success. I usually find these are the lauded ones who are guest speakers as seminars and groups and conferences, holding a carrot above the noses of the Category Ones. Most are self-important and actually have no greater wisdom of the literary arts other than “persevere.” They are money draws. Which is, of course, all fine and dandy. Some of them deserve their success. The problem in being a Category Four is that whether talented or no, everything one writes is severely critiqued. They can never achieve profound status in literary immortality if their works only fill a genre-niche for young people or shut-in fantasists. Maybe they are happy with that, and more power to them. Once you are a blockbuster, and your work is less than literary, you are noted for your monetary success, not the literary one. What’s worse is that you will never be given the chance to prove that you are indeed, an important artist for the art itself.
The best critique is to ask yourself, why do I do this? I find writers of all four categories tell me they do it because they wish to achieve something. Heck, I do that too. But, when it’s all said and done, art is the journey, not the result. I do this because it is what I am, through and through; all my thoughts will invariably turn into internal discussions of how this can be written, how it can be subject to a fictional character and how to show it to the world.
The answer will be because you cannot do it otherwise, and you do so even when you are a Category Three facing not so much getting your first work accepted, but that your career is wallowing in indifference, and all you see ahead is a black hole full of oblivion.
You do not need advice to PERSEVERE. It comes with the territory. You do or die.