January 18, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “A Matter of Time” (THE WRITER MAGAZINE, February 2008) Guy Stewart #12

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

Of everything I’ve written, I’d say that THIS ONE had the most things go right.

First of all, the source of the article was the magazine itself. A snarky exchange of Letters To The Editor in response to the regular “last-page-of-the-magazine” article…

OK – let’s follow the chronology of this!

In the February 2002 issue of THE WRITER (once my favorite writer’s magazine until it became indistinguishable from WRITER’S DIGEST), they interviewed Jonathan Franzen after the publication of his third book, THE CORRECTIONS. Asking him “When and where” he wrote, he replied in part, “If I don’t go straight to the desk after breakfast, I’m in trouble and the day’s usually shot.” (After the interview, he went on to become a widely celebrated and awarded writer. Clearly he knew what he was doing!)

But as far as an article goes? There was nothing.

In May 2002, in the Letters column, writer S. Kay Murphy wrote from Rancho Cucamonga, California, in part, “Geez...I’d write a nationally acclaimed novel, too, if I had that kind of alone time.” Snarky and of course, at that point, I agreed with him/her. (She MAY be this Kaye Murphy – or not… https://twitter.com/ohkayemurphy)

Anyway, in the July 2002 brought a snarkier response and set me off. Tim O’Neill from Oak Park, IL wrote back, in part, “Sounds like sour grapes...To achieve what he has, takes talent, hard work, a little luck and – o, yeah – sacrifice.”

THAT set me off. I loathe the phrase “sour grapes”. Someone told me that my comment was only sour grapes one time and I’ve hated that judgment call ever since. But should I answer the snark with snark after Kaye Murphy started with snark?

Probably not. I’ve long taught my writing class students that when writing an opinion piece to an editor or newspaper, “Don’t WHINE! Bring up the issue, give your response, then offer a solution. Otherwise don’t bother because you’re just adding to the general whininess of Humanity.”

In the margin of article, I wrote the following: “Mean and not necessarily – it’s a MATTER OF TIMING. If you work FT it takes longer than if you write FT. It’s not better…it’s not worse…it just a matter of timing…I’m not doing my best work consistently – the energy is absorbed elsewhere. Envy? Absolutely! Understandable – yes –Franzen likely does understand. But until my writing starts to pay dividends high enough to take the FT plunge, there ARE things I can do.”

That was when the article was born. I offered my perspective – a writer with few, but substantial, publications. I wrote the article, send a query letter, the editor (at the time Elfrieda M. Abbe), write back saying she’d be happy to look at it. She accepted it – but not for the paper version of THE WRITER as I’d hoped. It went live online on February 8, 2008 (yeah – I waited six years to see it published, but I was paid right away!). It’s also no longer up at the magazine, but you can access it here from my own “stock” in the trade, http://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/2015/01/writing-advice-matter-of-time.html.

So what did I do right?

First off, I read the magazines of my trade – science fiction, children’s, and teens – I read widely and constantly.

Secondly, after following a pair of snarky comments in the same publication, I decided to respond without the snark. I decided to grab what teachers call “the teachable moment” and give some advice.

Third, I wrote, queried, and then submitted an article. I would have gotten absolutely nowhere nearer a publishing credit if I’d just muttered, grumbled, and threw my thoughts into a corner.

Last of all, after getting paid, I waited. And waited. And finally, the article came out – and now I’m using it AGAIN as a teaching point. Now what? Once I post it, it’s in the public domain and I can never submit it anywhere again.

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