Saturday, July 25, 2009

Magic Potions and Keyboard Trolls

I have one hundred wandering hogs that want to go to school, two devious young kids staging a worldwide bedtime revolt, and an autistic kid named Joshua - all with the same problem. They can't make the leap from my manuscript pages to a book. I love to write. I love creating new stories. I love being an author. But so many of my little darlings, my daring story attempts, are unfinished, in need of repair, less than perfect. Rejected.

It's like Harry Potter in potions class. If you don't have the right mix of ingredients, in the exact amounts, you won't get the desired result, the magical POOF! Instead you are stuck with a messy potion gone wrong, resulting in purple hair, or a twelve-legged toad, or worse, some nasty snot-filled troll-like thing stomping on your keyboard. I hate keyboard trolls.

The problem is,  there is no formula for a perfect manuscript. Even the half-blood prince had to write notes in the margins of the flawed potion book. How many of you were taken aback by the fact that the textbook instructions were not 100% accurate? That the wizard still needed to improvise, add a little of this, a little of that, to get the formula to work?  You can follow every piece of instruction, every bit of advice and still no POOF! It seems a bit unfair. It's almost like an actual writer came up with that story element. Oh, wait.

Of course, some stories will magically POOF! and reveal themselves as something special, but just not to all people. When it comes to the craft of writing, POOFS! are subjective. Some written works have a wide range of appeal - like the heavily desired universal mass market bestseller POOF! The magic formula for that is hidden away in the same underground vault that holds the ingredients list for Coke and the original recipe for KFC. 

I'm often asked, "How do I get published?" Published writers still struggle to get published. While many new writers suck, and I can say this because I hugely sucked when I first started, there are plenty of good, unpublished writers out there, too. The phrase I hear over and over at conferences is, "If you have a great, well-written story, you'll get published." I'm not convinced. A more accurate statement may be, "Don't expect to get published unless you start with a great story, write incredibly well, understand voice, pace your story properly, and appeal to your reader. Be unique. Know your market well enough so that you are not writing long when short is in, or quiet when, um, I guess loud is selling. Poetry potions are known to have explosive and sometimes fatal consequences to the inexperienced. Or so I am told."

Oh, but there's more, "Next, make sure the editor reading your work 'gets' your humor and sense of rhythm and thought process. Oh, and your book must have a point. And those reading your story must find your point a worthy point, and not a point that was recently made by someone else, or a point that has been made too many times. Or worse, a point already made by someone who won An Important Award or has the secret recipe for the universal you-know-what kind of POOF! Don't make your point too obvious. Avoid waving a four-foot neon foam pointy finger resembling those used by over-zealous baseball fans to make your point. And, of course, none if this matters if your work doesn't scream I WILL SELL!!! SELL!!! SELL!!! to those considering it for publication." You get my point.

Day-to-day writing is about growth and hard work and dealing with pesky keyboard trolls that result from poorly concocted potions. As annoying as they may be, do not kill them all off. There are trolls that shred manuscripts to bits with their nasty sharp teeth, forcing you to start over. Then there are the trolls that throw wild midnight parties on your unattended pages, leaving them scattered, unorganized, in need of massive repair. Some trolls just nibble the edges of your work, forcing you to constantly search for what may be missing . Trickster trolls are the most challenging. They dance on your keyboard, adding unnecessary words and phrases, forcing you to read your work over and over until your eyes are permanently crossed. Sometimes, overly-enthusiastic trolls with no common sense at all send your work to industry professionals before it is ready, when it is filled with horrible errors and flaws. You have my permission to stomp those trolls to death.

I mustn't forget to mention the nasty, dreaded, keyboard trolls that actually pee in your keyboard and make it look like a cup of spilled coffee. Those trolls, you can also do away with. In fact, I've got one jammed in my garbage disposal at this very moment.