Scribbler’s Saga #62 – Enjoy Your Coin Toss

Posted: April 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Paging Harvey Dent…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

New writers sometimes demonstrate a huge bundle of raw nerves that after a while makes the rest of us want to avoid them until they’ve chilled out a little. Case in point, I recently Facebook friended a writer that ended up asking me variations of the same question at least five times – “Do you think I’ll do well?” I ran out of ways to say – “I don’t know, but part of your idea seems new enough to my hearing that you might have a batter than usual chance once you write the book.” And I had to wait until today to carefully compose the text that said I would always try to help them, but that repeating the same nervous nelly question over and over again seemingly trolling for a negative answer to look for a reason not to write, wasn’t winning them tolerance.

Writers that sell out to their muse and show up as often as they can to put words on the page learn fairly quickly to get past that initial stage of I can’t do this. Words appear on the page or they don’t (paging Yoda) and we learn to push aside our fear until after we have a manuscript, script or comic book script in hand. We’ve all been there. We come to know the fear as an illusion probably reinforced by scared, angry or jealous naysayers in our lives. It is sometimes impossible to convey this to a new writer until we realize that while we can be supportive, that we also can’t hold their hand as they write.

What does supportive look like? In the several Facebook groups I’ve joined, a writer asks a more technical question than the above writer and I and others answer. Someone asks about shifting the writing focus between two leading characters, the thread generally answers with many variations of – “sure, why not?” Another writer posts about reading a post that told what not to do when writing a memoir, things they had already committed to paper. Again the thread went with – “it’s your story and you should simply tell your story your way.”

My addition to this thread went like this – “I think you’re dealing with some memoir editor looking to shed work or something. If so, he needs a vacation not to take it out on the rest of us. It will take a while to get over this and try writing through it, see what happens.” Another favored response is – “write that fucker into the book.”

Getting back to the writer that most exemplified this phenomenon; I gave opinions when asked. When asked books or short stories, I said books suggesting that there seems to be more reward on the backend. When asked about a story element that modestly piqued by interest and led to the conversation shifting to Messenger and the repeated questions, I said I thought it would be new to other readers as well. At all times, I made sure I spoke from a place of opinion that admits I could be wrong, because promising brilliant success sight unseen and sight unread seems like I’m lying through my teeth. Not supportive at all.

And each time this writer needed to repeat a variation of the question, I did give variations of the answer. In one, I explained about how less than 10-percent of the whole American population reads consistently and that three percent of that first number is all it takes to be enough of a bestseller for the writer to make a living and have Hollywood come calling. I explained that while sociologists might think that to be terrible, the writer can look at it as being able to relax because appealing to your hypothetical one million readers is easier than trying to pander to everyone.

In every variation, I made sure to reiterate variations of you can’t know who your audience is until you write the book. I also tried at least one variation of your question requires me to make a guess that is a Red-Black or Heads or Tails bet against a market that changes every thirty seconds. Similar variations hit on the quote from William Goldman from Adventures in the Screen Trade – “No one knows anything.” I said things like yes, there are things you can do to give yourself better chances like good writing and better editing, but while bad books usually get crushed in this crucible so to do good books that did everything right. And still the writer needed to fish for an opinion that exposed their nerves.

I do completely understand about making that leap into the first book. I’ve written elsewhere about the scared family member that popped me out of a writing zone into the only complete (no words of any kind) Writers Block I’ve ever experienced that lasted eighteen months. And I’ve talked about crappy English teachers versus the couple good ones. And I’ve lived through the nasty backbiting on a film set that manifested, in part, with nasty comments (post to follow eventually) about not being “a real writer, just the guy with the money.” I’m still here so this is how I know things will nearly always work out if you can only shut up and do the work.

The writer expressing this much fear and excessive need for validation just can’t hear. They can’t hear that even without unique story elements, as this writer had, they should write the story anyway. They can’t hear – “Yes, Agatha Christie got to the They All Did It ending first with Murder on the Orient Express. We haven’t read your version.” They need to wallow in their fear as an excuse not to write.

After five repetitions of the inane question about doing well, I wanted to slap the writer around, hook up the parachute and throw them out of a perfectly functional aircraft. Tough love, all I have to give at this point. Mind the ground, Ducky. Enjoy the rollercoaster. Enjoy that your whole career is defined by the next coin toss and no one can shield you from failure. Enjoy that we’re masochists that want to do it all over again next month. As long as you please just write the fucking book!

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