Monday, February 15, 2010

A word of encouragement for a friend

I don’t know if you know this, but I keep a file of possible blog entries just in case I haven’t got anything to say some Monday. Because sometimes an idea strikes me on Thursday and then I forget. But this week, the idea struck on Sunday night.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who ask me for advice on writing, or getting published. It’s really weird. I mean, I’m not published yet. By definition, I have not yet succeeded in this thing that matters so much to me. It is entirely possible I may never succeed. I do everything I can to prevent that sad state of affairs from coming to pass, but I could always get hit by a train tomorrow and that would be the end of that. I survived being run over by a compact sedan when I was twelve; the next bad driver I meet could be my last.

And yet, because I have finished something, even if it’s only a hundred short stories and a few novel manuscripts, people send me emails or come up to me in coffee shops (where I write a lot) and ask me how I do things. How did I get an agent? How did I managed to finish writing all those thousands of words? How do I keep my plots straight? It’s amazing and a little scary, because I’m making most of this up as I go, as I imagine most writers do, and I can’t guarantee any of this works for anyone but me. I just haven’t lived long enough, or known enough other writers, to answer with any authority.

One of my occasional correspondents is another aspiring author, someone I’ve known long enough that I based a Masks character on her back when I thought it didn’t matter. She recently posted a blog entry about rejection letters, and dealing with criticism. I composed a long and, I dare say, brilliant response and e-mailed it to her.

And right after I did that, I discovered that someone I greatly respect had recently written something much, much better on that very subject.

Neil Gaiman posted this in his blog the other day, in response to a fan letter (addressed to “the best writer who ever lived”) asking him how he deals with harsh criticism:

“Well, for a start, never take seriously anyone telling you you're the best author who ever lived, because if you do you'd have to take seriously the person who announces that you're the worst author who ever lived.

“If you make art, people will talk about it. Some of the things they say will be nice, some won't. You'll already have made that art, and when they're talking about the last thing you did, you should already be making the next thing.

“If bad reviews (of whatever kind) upset you, just don't read them. It's not like you've signed an agreement with the person buying the book to exchange your book for their opinion.

“Do whatever you have to do to keep making art. I know people who love bad reviews, because it means they've made something happen and made people talk; I know people who have never read any of their reviews. It's their call. You get on with making art.”

So to my friend, and to the other people reading this blog who love to write, compose, paint, dance, sing, whatever … what he said.

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