Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.
Eagerly I went to the workshop meeting with the first five pages of my novel, which nobody has read and I haven't talked or written about. The readers had five minutes to read their first pages--those make-or-break pages--and then got a five-minute critique from the audience. I was eighth on the list. Nerves crept up on me. I told myself, "Fear is not real. Fear is all in the mind. Don't buckle. Don't let it win."
As the writers took their turns I saw that each criticism had validity and value. Ergo, that'd be true of the critiques of my work. And I grew nervous again, not for myself but for the transition about to take place: My story and characters have been so much fun to write, but the finished book is not mine anymore. It belongs to readers, and has a whole new face.
There's a myth that writing a novel is very easy. In Peanuts we saw a dog writing a genre novel. Erase that idea; you are now in the Sanity Bubble. It's novelists, the long-distance runners, who most need education in the craft and the business.
I notice that many authors bail out, or want to, when their books are 95 percent of their way into reality. It's not writer's block; it's a more insidious self-subversion rooted in stress and exhaustion, like that of a mother who feels she can't summon the strength for one last big push to bring her baby into the world. True-life examples:
At a recent reading I met Ben Moeller-Gaa, well-published poet who writes only haiku. I had to ask what that was like.
-Tell us about your interesting last name.
My wife is a Moeller and I am a Gaa and when we got married we decided to join our names. The name Gaa is German, and it’s really that short. My family comes from the town of Hockenheim, where there are still Gaas today. I have no idea what the name means. It is a historical question mark.
Writer Carol Bly had a trick for improving and tightening dialogue in fiction and nonfiction. Take a page of dialogue from your manuscript, lay a one-inch-wide ruler on the left margin of your writing, and pencil a line down the ruler’s right side. Everything in front of the penciled line must go.
It is normal for writers to hate their publishers: They don’t promptly return emails or calls. The book, they said, would be out in May but now they say August. You tear out your hair. They choose the typeface and cover, the fun stuff, while you collect copyright permissions and back-of-the-book blurbs (isn’t that their job?), and they demand that you have an author platform and a marketing plan. They want images at 300 dpi. Awful. This is as true of self-publishers as it is of commercial publishers.