Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Photo by Paul Downey, via Flickr
This is the month of thank yous, the season of gratitude. Even though a writer’s life is not an easy one, we still have plenty to be grateful for. At the top of my list are books, writing communities, and publishers.

A visiting magazine editor once told a room full of writers at a panel on publishing that in order to succeed a writer needs do three things besides write. We all sat up straighter and strained our ears to hear. The magic ingredients, she told us, were 1) to read many, many great books, especially in the genre we were writing, 2) to join and participate in writing communities such as the conference we were all attending, and 3) to send out our work to contests, editors, and agents, in the hopes they would help us get published.

It sounded like a lot of work, but it was nice to have a formula for “success,” whatever that was, so I took it to heart. I got busy and added to my writing practice as much reading, workshopping, and submitting as I could manage in the midst of my busy life. Success at that point in my life was defined as getting my memoir published. I had already drafted it, but it still needed a lot of revision. Amazingly, after just a couple of years, I achieved my goal. And now, I am eternally indebted not just to that speaker, but to all of the authors who wrote all the great books that showed me the way, all the supportive people in my writing communities, and finally to all those wonderful editors and publishers who sat down and read my unpublished work.

Writing is a process, as we know. Draft, revise, edit, repeat until the work is “as good as it gets.” We think of our writing process in terms of our own solitary acts, but maybe we should broaden that to include the interactions with books, writing communities and the publishing industry, because so often our final drafts are informed by the responses of early readers, rejections and acceptances from editors, search engine filters, contest parameters, and all those genre-defining forces that help us figure out what our book or essay is and where it belongs.

I personally am grateful for great books like The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman, everything Anne Lamott ever wrote, Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit by Mary Karr, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. These books not only showed me how it can be done, they gave me permission to do it my way.

I am grateful for my writing communities, starting with my old friends from NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program, my support group from Antioch University L.A.’s MFA in Creative Writing, and the two organizations that feed me tons of support and insight (as well as wine and cheese,) Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and the Denver Woman’s Press Club.

I am grateful most of all for the people who read not just one but multiple drafts of my work, for free, and the ones I paid to tear it apart and help me put it back together, my husband’s patience, and even my daughter’s second grade teacher who cheered me on. The friend who told me that this book HAD to be published and the one who told me I was being too clinical and detached in my depiction of my main character, but encouraged me to keep working on it.

While at times the roles of writer and editor can seem at odds, in essence we are two sides of the same coin, united in the same goal. I appreciate all the professional readers, feedback-givers, and decision makers. In short, the gate-keepers.

As writers, we can sometimes forget how much there is to be grateful for. I mean, it’s a tough business – a lot of hard work for low or no pay, critics and reviews, vulnerability and risks. But writing is rewarding nonetheless, and those rewards outweigh the challenges.  And we’d never make it through without the help of literary works, writing communities, and those in the publishing industry who work so hard to bring our words to the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Candace Kearns Read is the author of the memoir The Rope Swing (Eagle Wings Press, Sep 2016). She is a screenwriter who has also been a Hollywood script reader for actors and directors, including the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Michelle Pfeiffer. Her screenplays have been optioned by producers and developed with Fox, Disney, HBO, and Lifetime. She teaches creative writing for Antioch University and the Young Writers Program at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She’s the author of the screenwriting handbook Shaping True Story into Screenplay, and co-author of the memoir Bogie’s Bike. Her essays have appeared in fullgrownpeople.com, The Manifest-Station, and The Rumpus.

6 comments :

  1. Welcome to the Blood Red Pencil! When I hear writers say they do it all on their own, I just shake my head and walk away. We all need a little help.

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  2. Welcome aboard, Candace! I agree with Diana -- and you -- that we all need a team. I think the idea of doing it ourselves has stemmed, at least in part, from the self-publishing movement. Huge numbers of writers go that route, and they too often don't tap into the talents of others to smooth their paths. Quality suffers as a result. Your detailed post points to a different way, one that may take a bit longer but the rewards will likely be much better. I look forward to reading more from you. :-)

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  3. Excellent advice, especially the reading part. (Also my favorite part.)

    If you don't enjoy reading, you can't write something that somebody else will enjoy reading.

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  4. I am so with you on the reading part - it's really top-of-the-list training.

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  5. I agree with Linda: it's easy to get caught up in wanting to learn to do everything yourself so that you can say "It's all mine. Every last hand-justified piece of typesetting." I'm grateful for the enormous amount of free information that kind professionals have made available. I have learnt so much over the years.

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  6. Welcome to The Blood-Red Pencil blog, Candace. I really liked that you stressed reading many, many books as part of the process of honing our craft of writing. And, like you, I love everything Anne Lamott has written, especially the books that inspire and teach writing.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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