Friday, April 18, 2008

Competence

I haven't blogged in a while, mostly because the insanity that comes with buying and selling real estate has taken up most of my energy. But I've also been mulling a topic over in my head for a while. I'm wondering if any writer ever feels competent.

As a journalistic writer (my day job), I feel competent. I know what elements of a story need to be included for a reader to be satisfied at the end and to learn something. And as a creative writer, I have the basic knowledge about those things, too.

One of the main differences, I think, is that I am not worried about perfecting a journalistic piece. Don't get me wrong, I want it to be good. But I know that a large part of the process is the editing that my editor will do to ask questions I didn't think to, and maybe to help me focus the piece.

The second big difference is that at some very definitive point, I have to let go of my journalistic piece. It's called a deadline, after which, my words will be printed somewhere and I can never, ever edit them again. The process for getting creative writing published seems to encourage a feeling of incompetence--you finish your story/book and think it's done. You send it out to a few magazines/agents/editors, and let's say they all reject it. So now not only is your writing incompetent, but so is your judgment about knowing when something is done. So you go back, and rework, and send it out again in the hopes that this new person won't give you another reason to think you're incompetent.

So what's the moral of this post? How does a writer begin to feel competent about her writing, her story telling, and her ability to decide when something is done? I don't know! You tell me. Please. Best Blogger Tips

8 comments:

January said...

It's all so subjective and tilted toward the publishers, in my humble opinion.

I don't have any answers but what I've developed over the years is a thick skin. And the knowledge that there are more publishers than ever for short stories and poetry. You just have to keep moving forward and have submissions always going out to balance the rejections coming in.

bostonerin said...

You have to remember that the whole industry is subjective. Doing research to find the right place to send your piece is key, developing that thick skin is key, and also just practicing the craft as much as possible helps.

You are the *first* person who will feel confident in your work. Be your best advocate, put your best work out there, and stay strong. Finding the right match comes with perseverance.

Writer bug said...

Thanks--it's great to get feedback from more established writers. I guess what I'm still left wondering is: how do you know when your story is done/good enough?

bostonerin said...

That's the problem--it's never done. Or "good enough". But you have to decide when you feel you've done as much as you can with it and when is the time to draw the line. That's why taking time away from pieces is helpful--it gives you more objectivity.

I can give you two examples from my own work:

• I worked on my first novel off and on for SEVEN YEARS (don't be alarmed--all through grad school, then I got a job, tinkered with short stories, went back to it, etc). I finally committed to one final revision three years ago. It nearly landed me an agent, but it wasn't right for the industry and the market--things had changed too much. When working with it on that last round, I also realized that my writing had grown and changed, too. It's not the type of story I want to tell anymore. So I shelved it. It's done. Over. And I'm okay with that.

• I work on short stories when I'm stuck with my novels. I'll revise them, get them to a good point, and then put them away for anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months (depending on length and other things I'm working on). When I dust them off, I'm better able to see what still needs work, or if they're close to being done. Then I can decide whether or not to submit them. You have to trust in yourself and your process. You can work something over and over and over and kill the story, or put it away and go back to it to see how its aged.

Okay, long post. Sorry! Perhaps a tea-time chat would be good, instead....

DJPare said...

I agree with some of the comments and dis with others. I believe that getting something published is certainly not a showing of competence. Who says that these publisher's opinions are right? I've read pieces that were chosen as winners of writing contests that I thought were total crap! And others, in the same contest that were lumped in as honorable mention that were much better writing than the winner!

I disagree with Erin about the "nothing is ever done or good enough" part. Who are you/we writing for? If you're writing for to get published or for an editor to like it, or a professor to approve than maybe that's true, but if you're writing for yourself, because YOU are the one who is creating the piece - you thought it up not anyone else, then you need to find a point and say "I like this" and then leave it alone. If others don't agree, then I guess you weren't writing it for them...

Christine,
You are a good writer! Personally, I think that you just over-think things too much. So, you never seem really truly happy with anything you write. Try to write something, trust your (abundant) talen, like it, then leave it alone, even if you think it may need a rewrite. See how that feels. Fuck the publishers and the editors! Why are they experts? Have you ever read THEIR stuff? How do you know you'd like it, if they even do write...maybe they don't have your taste. Fuck em! Trust your taste!

Wow! This brought on something... :)

Writer bug said...

Thanks all. Great comments. I love the idea of sitting on things for a while. It's hard to remember the importance of that when you're under deadline pressure because of an MFA program.

Don, this comment just about sums up every problem I've ever had in my life: "Personally, I think that you just over-think things too much." :)

DJPare said...

P.S. You're not alone my friend. Just about every person who knows me (especially all past girlfriends) would probably say that I over-think things too much as well. I never said it was easy to stop. ;)

bostonerin said...

DJ--for me, "nothing is ever done" or "nothing is ever good enough" means that I can *always* go back to a piece and make it better. And I think that's a good thing, because I'm a revision-hound. But I do think, as I said, that you need to come to a place where you're okay with leaving a piece behind or considering it finished...especially if you're writing for yourself and not an audience.

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