So often it is we judge literary success only by the quality of our rejection – Hey, they spelled my name right on the rejection letter! – that it’s easy to lose faith in one’s path to publication. In and of itself, even publication won’t guarantee less rejection from book critics and book buyers, family and friends, whether traditionally published or not. Rejection is just part of the process of being a writer. Yet despite facing an industry awash in rejection, an industry in which incalculable competition already exists and grows exponentially each year, emerging writers glom onto hope. Truly, emerging writers remain the world’s most insufferable optimists. Why? Because stories matter.
Good stories matter even more. Good stories grant readers permission to escape. They allow readers to forget; or force them to remember. Good stories entertain us, or educate us, embolden us or make us think, even dare fill us with wonder, sometimes all at once. Because above all else, good stories make us feel. Something. Everything.
As a writer, and more importantly as a reader, I need desperately to feel. I demand it. We’re all suckers for a good story.
But a good story well told is more than words strewn shrewdly across a page; more than clean structure and dialogue that pops; vivid scenes and imaginative sequences; breathless action and rich, compelling characters. A good story – scratch that – a good author of an exceptional story recognizes the reader’s needs, embraces them and delivers. A good author crafts an exceptional story that makes us care.
Here in the thick of November, with so many SCWCers and over 40,000 other NaNoWriMo writers immersed in the challenge of committing 50,000 words to a rough draft, in a month, one can lose sight of the why, let alone how to, write a good story. Which is where the SCWC has historically fit in.
Once words are laid naked on the pages of that initial draft, now the real work begins.
Whatever you’re currently writing, be it a hard-rocking adventure, killer murder mystery, YA fantasy, NA rom-com, spellbinding sci-fi, literary, memoir, historical, transformative narrative, prescriptive nonfiction or anything else, you need to know what’s working, what’s not working, and possess the tools to ready it for commercial viability.
The SCWC provides a safe, welcoming environment to do just that. The SCWC prides itself on encouraging bold voices who strive to distinguish themselves by bolstering the quality of their work.
We are about the excellence of craft and clarity of message in your efforts. Your manuscript. Your career. And honesty is our policy. It’s a subjective thing, of course, but SCWC staff can only respond to what you’ve got. What you might think you’ve got doesn’t change that. That’s what makes writing hard. That’s what makes rejection sting. That’s why honest, empirically qualified, professional feedback is so intrinsically valuable to writers.
So, in the giddy haze that often follows the end of NaNoWriMo, or the grim wake of disinterest expressed at a recent pitch to an agent or editor, or yet another inexplicable rejection notification, do know that there is a place for you to get a reality check on where your work is now; figure what’s broken or not; what needs to be fixed and how.
Publishing a book is an affirmation of purposeful being. But publishing a good book, an exceptional book, a great book, requires a community. This is the time — your time, our time — to join the chorus of singular voices offering distinct perspectives on today’s world, yesteryears’, and beyond tomorrow’s to make a difference. A contribution. A declaration. Or just to give the reader one rip-snortin’ wallop of a good story well told.
Effectively communicating the movie in your mind to some faceless stranger across a page is a noble goal well worth making the effort to achieve. One that the SCWC is most proud in serving so many to do so.
Be the best writer you can be. Inform. Inspire. Entertain.
Because stories matter.
In fact, here’s my tortured take on an old favorite . . .
A Book Worth Writing
Michael Steven Gregory
THERE’S THIS FATHER of two young daughters who aspire to become writers. One’s an insufferable pessimist; the other an unrepentant optimist. A psychologist by trade, the father’s frustrated by their inability to get published and starts to fret about their mental well-being in the face of possibly overwhelming rejection. So, he decides to conduct an experiment.
Father comes home one day and goes to the bedroom of his pessimist daughter. He opens the door. Inside, he’s filled her room with all the great literature, from the autobiographies of Cellini and Pepys to the epic novels of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy to the iconic works of Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and E. L. James. His thinking in doing so was that, in an environment of such lofty testaments of literary affirmation within easy reach–mounds of stories stacked low and high and tumbling and skidding across the floor–what writer would not be inspired to dare reach across the blank page and thrust a stranger into another world, with mere words?
Sadly, the father observes, every volume remained untouched, its jacket unopened, its pages unturned, all the words within unread. For there in the middle of the room, chin on fist with pen clenched tightly, dark eyes cast low and slowly scanning the titles around her, his daughter crouches silently. The writing pad in her lap blank. The pessimist writer, it seems, remains convinced that she can never write a book as good as any of these. For fear her rejection will confirm it, she refuses to even try.
Father sighs and shakes his head, then turns his attention to the bedroom of his optimist daughter. He clears his throat and steps inside.
With this room the father has gone totally opposite. In here he’s delivered countless reams of manuscript pages rejected by agents and editors throughout the publishing industry–tens of thousands of sheets, scarred by millions of shamelessly unrefined, self-indulgent prose. And there in the bristling white thick of it, clawing giddily into its shuffling mass, flinging every misbegotten page this way or that, the father’s optimist daughter stands laughing maniacally, maybe even triumphantly.
“Whoa!” says the father, dumbfounded. “Why’re you so happy?”
The optimist writer looks up, her face full of fun. “Well, geez, Dad,” she says. “I figure somewhere in this heaping stack of structureless narratives, convoluted subplots, skewed POVs, poorly realized characters, imploding second acts and superfluous, shitty words, there must be a book worth writing!”
Write now and be the best writer you can be. Aim for excellence. Settle only for exceptional.
Your readers are waiting.