Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing: On Being a Camel

Writers go a really long time between successes. A really, really long time. You can write, revise, edit, polish, send that manuscript out into the world, have it hurtle right back, and start again--all without any "real" success--those external markers like praise, publication, or a congratulatory cookie.

There are a lot of characteristics that people claim help a writer succeed. Perseverance, dedication, creativity, mild insanity. I'd like to suggest one more.

Being a camel.

A success camel, that is. A praise camel.

A writer needs to be able to go a very long time on a very little bit of success. There will be hours and hours of work for every little bit of encouragement--even if you've built a network of writer friends and critique partners who help to build you up. Much of your time is still spent alone, gazing into the cooly glowing, emotionless face of your computer monitor. Each bit of success--a contest win, a nice word from a crit partner, anything--needs to be stored up to last through the solitary times, through rejections, through the long desert of the road to publication.

Sure, great idea...but I'm not a camel. Well, that's true. You don't have a fatty lump on your back in which to store things. You'll need another method. Try these.

1) Keep a file of all your critiques. I have a terrible habit sometimes of skimming the nice things people say and cutting right to the "meat and potatoes" of the stuff they say needs to be fixed. This is dumb on two levels, people. One--the nice things are actually really useful--don't you need a little guide on what's working as you proceed? Two--later, when you're feeling discouraged, you can look back and be reminded that, yes, in fact, your work is NOT a giant puddle of festering ignorant black type on white paper. You do good stuff.

2) Print a couple of the best ones--in pretty font, even--and put it near where you write. Narcissistic-looking, to the outsider? Maybe. But it's not for them, is it?

3) Cultivate relationships with people who will not only critique, but build up as well. Telling you where you're going wrong is important, but so is encouragement. Sometimes even the best critique partners and writing buddies can't do both for you--and that's ok. Having a large network is fine.

4) Pick up a hobby that does deliver tangible results. One of the reasons I sew--unlike writing, when you sew, the work you put in is generally in direct proportion to the results you get. You put in hours hand-pleating and gathering a blouse? You get a beautiful blouse. You put in hours revising, editing, polishing? You might still get a rejection. Acknowledging that writing is not such a direct game is step one, and if you need that directness, step two is finding something that provides it.

5) Even camels eventually need a drink. Don't push yourself to cross deserts longer than you should.

And your fun fact of the day: There are two kinds of camels, Bactrians and Dromedaries. How to tell them apart? Bactrians have two humps, Dromedaries only one.

And when you put the letter B on its side, it has two humps--and the letter D, only one. Easy!

Are you a success camel? What are your camel suggestions? Are you a Bactrian or a Dromedary? Spitting in the comments not encouraged.

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