Friday, November 17, 2006

The Fundamental Trick of a Writing Career

Underlying most of the decisions I make about my work is this: to what degree will I alter the work I feel called, even created, to do, in order to meet the requirements of the marketplace?

My standard for myself is that, in revising for the market, I figure out how to, at the same time, make the work better overall. I find a way to do what an editor wants (or that I'm guessing an editor wants) that better serves my own purposes as well. And what a wrestle with the work that can be!

On the other hand, if I'd gone farther in the direction of the market in my career so far, more people might well be reading my work. It's very hard to see the line between too much compromise and not enough. By the time we find out, it may be too late. The work is diluted and published, or the work is rejected.

I'm not one who is opposed to revising, to working with an editor. Not at all. I believe in selling, in publishing. Part of the job I feel I've somehow been assigned in life is getting the stories, not only written, but published. So the question rolls on, I've had to resolve it anew with every new project.

I never quit until the work both meets my standards and is published. But damn, it's right wearing sometimes.

At the same time, I'm grateful for my strong clear sense of mission. If I didn't have it, I expect I'd be wrestling with whether I was doing the right work.


billie said...

Well said.

For me, it is hard sometimes knowing which side to lean to when it feels like "editing to the market" is "selling out." Mostly I just wish I knew exactly what to do that would make the books sell. If it were clear to me, at least then the decision would be based on fact, versus my trying to sort it out!

I am right now immersed in a rewrite of my first novel, employing two rather big pieces of feedback my first agent gave me. I bucked them at the time, and now, two years and a still unpublished novel later, am willing to try them out.

The trick for me was, as you mentioned, finding a way to do what he suggested that felt right and organic to the original draft. And I think I have found it - not sure if it will make it soar, but there is some good measure of satisfaction in doing it nonetheless.

This is likely not something I'd have come up with two years ago... I truly think having the distance from the story made the difference.

I wonder how it feels to be doing this novel writing thing with deadlines in place - there is certainly freedom in not having yet hit the bookstores!


Peggy said...

I've never had a fiction deadline--my friend Angela Davis-Gardner is currently working day and night to make an early December deadline for the first third of her new novel. Though it's lovely to have the contract up front, I don't envy her the current crunch.

The passage of time does clarify a lot of decisions.

Peter Bryenton said...

The only time I am truly happy working with my camera is when I'm shooting for myself, not to deadlines or designs imposed by others.
My personal art doesn't put bread on my table, so I have a day job for that. I don't get to wear my artist's hat much, if at all, at work, but my job doesn't interfere with my art much either.

Compromise? Dunno, but it seems to have been one way of finding a balance for a while.

(By the way, I arrived here from billie's web site, thank you.)