Saturday, January 3, 2009

Resolution or Commitment?

New Year’s resolutions—no matter how well-intended—are made to be broken. Why so? Could it be that they are created on a whim and aren’t backed by the commitment that turns spoken words into physical (or mental) action?

Because I’m about to move into a smaller place, I’ve spent the last two days going through old files and eliminating bags full of no-longer-necessary papers. This afternoon I found several rejection letters I received some years ago when I sent out my not-quite-ready-for-publication first novel. Most were form letters, but one agent sent a personal note, commenting that the manuscript needed "revision." He was right. I pared over 20,000 words off the story, some of which I dearly loved. Letting them go met with more reluctance than I care to admit even now.

What’s the point here? I had resolved to write a more compelling book than the ones I was reading, a story that kept the reader turning pages despite the missing sex and profanity. And I had indeed written a story—some 116,000 words of story. However, I hadn’t committed to polishing that story into a marketable manuscript. “But it was finished,” you might say. “Surely that took commitment.” Yes, it did, but not enough. My ordinary story needed to be transformed into an extraordinary family drama.

Today, the commitment that has its roots in that experience reaches far beyond my own writing. Every year, hundreds of thousands of writers thrust their creations into the marketplace. Because few have found homes in traditional publishing, the vast majority of their works are churned out by small presses and print-on-demand houses. This glut of reading material—much of it poorly edited or unedited altogether—overwhelms even the most prolific readers and leaves many authors disillusioned about ever realizing their dreams of writing a bestseller.

What’s the commitment? Help writers to learn their craft. Don’t just edit their manuscripts—teach them to become better writers. Instruct them in the finer points of painting word pictures in a variety of colors and hues. Teach them the difference between “show” and “tell.” Take them down the path to writing great dialogue. Make a difference for those who, for whatever reason, choose to travel the non-traditional road. And in the process, give readers excellent stories that will keep them coming back for more.

In this business, a number of areas beg for commitment. Which one beckons to you?

Owner of Pen and Sword Publishers, Linda Lane heads up an editing team committed to raising the bar on non-traditionally published works. She offers writing workshops and is working on developing standards for editors that will assure writers that they are getting their money's worth when they hire an editor. (Site is under construction.)

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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.