Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short Cut Dangers

[Author's Note: This post addresses not only my writerly view but also my world view. As in, a belief that informs my daily life.]

Today it occurred to me that there ought to be a warning sign for aspiring writers: Do not take the short cut.

It's not that short cuts do not exist. They do. In fact, there are many, it seems, who can attest to this fact. And it's not that short cuts in and of themselves are bad. They're not; they simply exist. And it's not that in a fit of mad querying I've turned slightly green at those who've found the short cut, bypassing the long line of weary travelers, and attained the golden crown of publishing. I haven't; at least not yet.

It's just that I believe in the power and energy of the long way, the narrow path, the school of hard knocks, the lesson of the journey over the destination.

That deduction could be a cop-out. Or an excuse. Or justification for yet another rejected query.

But it's not.

In a Literary Lab post on Pain, Gain, and Avoiding Both, Scott G.F. Bailey writes,

"...the longer-term benefit is that we become better writers when we struggle and suffer and fix our mistakes. Usually, we learn enough to not make that particular mistake ever again, which saves time and effort the next time we sit down to write."

Of course, to take his quote out of context, not only does the struggle improve the writer-in-training but it also improves the character-in-training. As in the character of a man or woman's soul. And how noble is that? (After all, for what other purpose do we wander here on planet Earth?)

What prompts this introspective contemplation? A look backwards, actually. Where was I a year ago? Two years ago?
  • A comparison between my first (two-page, single-spaced) query letter and today's (three paragraph) leaner, tighter, meaner version.
  • A comparison between my first tedious and meandering synopsis and today's streamlined and focused version.
  • A comparison between my first big-on-idea, short-on-connecting-threads novel and today's completed (60,000 word YA urban fantasy) novel.

Does it mean I've arrived? Heavens no! I'm still on this journey. But when I realize the amount of knowledge I've gained, the skills I've acquired, and the mental synthesizing of great gobs of publishing voodoo, I'm -- quite frankly -- moved to amazement.

Thus, I have to say that I'm thankful for the journey. And gratified beyond belief that I didn't find the short cut. After all, it would be so bloody embarrassing if that first attempt at spinning YA brilliance had been published.


Charlie said...

It’s the same in music. If you’re in a band, you must love playing for nothing for many years. It’s a 99.99% chance that’s where you’ll stay. Very few ever get a deal and if you’re lucky to have a success, you’ll probably fall quickly into the discount racks and playing small clubs again. That’s it.

The writing game seems to be similar. You must LOVE getting into it and writing with no recognition or reward. (We used to call it woodshedding)The journey is what you must love. If you get published, that's great.
Just remember me! :)

Iapetus999 said...

Could you mention some of them short cuts?
I'd like to try them before I take your word for it ;)

Anonymous said...

So true, and you put it really well :-) I love the journey, the learning, and looking back to see how much I have improved.
Great post!

MG Higgins said...

I'm writing my fifth MG novel and with every previous one (even the first!) I thought, "Wow. I've arrived. I'm a writer." Heh. I am only now becoming aware of the absolute vastness of how much I DON'T know. It's simultaneously uplifting and depressing.

Diane Gallant said...

True. I think we need to keep it all in perspective. Most crafts require a long period of apprenticeship, and really this one is no different.

Charles Gramlich said...

I never found a short cut either but I do find it rather frustrating on occassion to see writers get such short cuts and make tons of money off them.

Scott said...

A short cut through the woods only gets the short cutter in trouble!

I look back on my early writing and am, like, omg, gag me with a spoon. Oh, great, now I'm having a flashback to the 80s. Hate it when that happens. Seriously, though, I love the journey I've taken with my writing to reach this point in my life. I've written some crap over the years, and I've written some great stuff as well.

I think the long path is the best path for writers, because we're (or at least we should be) always learning and honing our craft. Would I love a short cut to publication? Yeah, who wouldn't? But, I'm rather enjoying the leisurely walk down the path to publication!


Lady Glamis said...

I hate shortcuts, and this is probably why I write so flipping slow.

Great post!

Empress Awesome said...

I hate short cuts. Going the long way gets you more exercise. It gives you calf muscles like a mountain lion! Or Chun-li from Street Fighter (either way, that's big)Just imagine that calves = writing ability, and this may make a little sense.

Anyway, good advice, my friend. Good advice.

JKB said...

EXCELLENT post, Alex.

Very timely, too. :-)))

Alex Moore said...

@Charlie: good point...the journey makes us who we are, for certain. I like your word, "woodshedding" -- I'm unfamiliar w/ it. I'll have to look it up! and no worries, no friend is ever left behind; just keep that in mind when reversed :)

@Iapetus999: well, if i told you, i'd have to... *grin* okay. maybe i'll do a post on short cuts.

@jchart: if there wasn't that option for reflection (& witnessing growth), I think it'd get too bloody discouraging :P

@MG Higgins: the more I know, the more I realize how little I know. Yes, the conundrum of growth... congrats, however, on your successes and journey!

@Diane Gallant: apprenticeship. yes, good point. my father's an electrician and that apprenticeship is five years! how could i think of writing as any different? that is an encouraging thought -- thank you :)

@Charles Gramlich: indeed. but so goes life, which is equally as puzzling, so i give it little thought. as cliche'd as it sounds, i can only be responsible for me; and i want to be the best that i can be. character is a curious thing, however, so as much as I hope I would recognize and refuse the temptation of a shortcut, who's to know until it happens?

@Scott: so true. there is more to life -- and one's craft and one's character and one's honor -- than simply getting published. the journey, i believe, has a great deal to do with it.

@Lady Glamis: ahh but the result is so much better, yes? for myself, i've noticed that the more i ponder the better the result. unfortunately, since discussing that pondering is tantamount to disaster, it appears that i'm barely moving. ;)

@Empress Awesome: good to see you here! and yes, the development of muscle is vital to growth, so i'm with you all the way. I'm working that writerly muscle :P

@JKB: thank you much -- you're the awesome one :) hope you're feeling well and kicking butt!!

Anonymous said...

The book store shelves are lined with short cuts. Large publishing houses are fully immersed in the publication and promotion of short cut novels. Formula writing is a short cut. In short, I'll cut to the chase: 90% of best sellers are pure unadulterated crap and the reading public doesn't appear to mind all that much. This is terribly sad for those who write quality literature.

Lady Glamis said...

Alex, the more I ponder the better I do as well. It's just that all that pondering takes so much time! But yes, not taking shortcuts is always better in my opinion.