January 13, 2013

Slice of PIE: Chrono-Perception and Life-Perspective

I am a member of a an online writers group that is made up of writers of many ages and at many experience levels. I’ve been with this group since 2005. After seven years of watching some writers mature and move on to much bigger and better things; watching others keep on and on and on at the same writing level neither getting worse nor getting better, I have an observation to make.

New writers are an IMPATIENT lot!

When I joined seven years ago, online submissions were rare. ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION (still doesn’t), ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE, STRANGE HORIZONS, TALES OF THE UNANTICIPATED, INTERZONE and more did not accept them.

Those of us who wrote then wrote on word processors, printed out a manuscript, wrote a cover letter, addressed two envelopes (one to the magazine editor, one to ourselves (called a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)), stopped at the post office to get the thing weighed and sent it on its way. Then we waited.

I started keeping rigid records in January of 1990 – pre-Internet Age. I routinely waited eight to forty weeks to hear back from editors. Often enough to not be alarming, I sometimes waited over a year. During that time, I got back to work with the thought firmly in mind that I might not get a response for a year.

Reading the sometimes less-than-professional comments on the forum regarding how long some of these youngsters had to wait – and then loudly announcing that because an editor took 200 DAYS, they were striking that editor from their list of places to submit because they were TOO SLOW and THAT WASN’T RESPECTFUL OF THEM AS A WRITER – makes me smile and wonder how they would have fared in the “olden days”.

Not to say that expectations of instant response aren’t visible everywhere. It manifests itself in such things as pre-cooked pancakes that you simply have to microwave (really? What could be more simple to make from scratch than pancakes?) to express cash machines, drive-through restaurants and “Suddenly Salad” mixes.

The fact is that microwaveable pancakes – with their list of ingredients that goes far beyond flour, eggs, water, salt, and baking soda – don’t taste as good as homemade. No, really: if you’ve never made your own pancakes from a classic recipe and taken them hot off the griddle and compared them directly to frozen pancakes “fresh” out of the microwave, you don’t know that there is a difference. I suspect the quality of writing of today’s younger writers may be suffering as well. I am NOT saying that ALL young writers can’t write. I am wondering out loud if, in this age of instant gratification a young writer might not be tempted to write faster and ponder less, sending their brainchild out into the world before it has a chance to age to perfection; before it has a chance to be anything more than Boone’s Farm Apple Wine rather than with the patience that comes out of knowing you’re going to have to WAIT for a response and if you’re going to wait four or five or six months, you’d better do everything in your power to make sure the outcome is going to be in your favor – and working to produce a Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947.

The same might be said for the explosion of self-published SF novels. Writers who refuse to wait, then announce that Publishing Is Dead then follow a protocol, formatting their own work in mobi or whatever, buying or making a cover then putting their work online in hopes that their sales will match DUNE (which was, BTW, originally published by the very same publisher that produces CHILTON’S complete car repair manuals for virtually every can made since, like 1957….).

I’ve read several of them in various genres – horror, SF, fantasy, romance, even a textbook. Most of them read like wine that’s aged into vinegar would taste or like dumping three RAMEN noodle “flavor packets” into one cup of water only gets you brine strong enough for shrimp to live in tastes...awful.

I believe that the pursuit of instant publication has driven many young writers to engage in instant writing, sacrificing style, depth and thought for a “quick fix” of possible fame tomorrow.

How many of you are going to disagree with me?

[After I posted this morning, my FaceBook Feed brought me this article that not only says more clearly what I was saying here, it's saying it from an AWARD-WINNING blogger! http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-number-one-mistake-new-writers-make.html?spref=tw]

2 comments:

~brb said...

Switching to my editor's hat for a moment, I had to react to this:

"...THAT WASN’T RESPECTFUL OF THEM AS A WRITER..."

Respect is bidirectional, folks. If you want me to be respectful of you as a writer, be respectful of me as an editor. Above all, that means, don't waste my time.

Remember, you are just one of hundreds of would-be contributors asking for a piece of my time this month, so when I give you my undivided attention, use your opportunity wisely.

Don't send me half-baked, half-finished work. Revise and rewrite before you submit. Have a friend whose judgment you trust read your story. For God's sake, use spell-check. If there are any factual points you're iffy on, research them beforehand. Read our submission guidelines before you submit to us. Don't for a minute imagine we're not serious about our guidelines, or that your story is somehow so irresistibly brilliant we'll feel compelled to bend the rules for you.

I have long since forgotten the name of the writer who sent me "T is for Transsexual," but I will never forget what a wretched experience it was to slog through those five thousand words of mind-numbing alliteration that told the tale of Tommy the Transsexual Trucker. Believe me, this is not the kind of unforgettable experience you want to share with an editor to whom you hope to sell your work.

jimmy barnes said...

I am a young writer and I am happy to say that I have spent 4 years on my first book, so far. No instant gratification for me thanks. (That goes for pancakes too.)