Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

My Photo
Name:
Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, February 13, 2006

10 things you should NEVER worry about

I am shaking my head as I write this. Was procrastinating this morning by blog surfing and was over at Miss Snark's place where "a somewhat aspirant author" (is that like a slightly sanguine scribe?) was asking how much a manuscript should weigh.

Now maybe this guy was going for funny, but I didn't laugh. Because I have heard far more inane questions from folks trying to get published. There's so much advice floating around in the blogasphere, in how-to books and in magazines -- everything from plot structure to how to craft a killer query letter.

But I never hear one big thing that needs to be said:

Stop worrying about the dumb stuff. It drains your energy. It diverts your attention. It gives you a really good reason to NOT do what you really need to do -- write the best damn book you can write. See, if you're busy obsessing over what font to use you don't have to wrestle the hairy POV beast to the mat, do you.

So if you are trying to write a novel or you have finished one and are trying to get published, here is my list of things you should not waste one brain cell on. These are real questions I have been asked. I am not making any of this up, I swear:

1. Should I use Word or Wordperfect?
Whatever you are comfortable using. No one else gives a flying rat fart.

2. Will a publisher or agent steal my idea if I submit it?
No. If it is good and you show a basic command of the craft, they will buy it and work with you on it.

3. Do I need to get an agent?
Not unless you have finished at least one book. Preferably two. This is called counting your royalty check eggs before you have bought the chicken. Don't worry about renting out Carnegie Hall if all you can play is three chords of Heart and Soul.

4. What if they want me to change it?
They will. So don't sweat it.

5. Should I include a CD with my submission?
Paper is still the currency of choice in this business. Unless otherwise asked, don't bother with anything but. New York is a curiously 19th century place.

6. I don't want my mother to read the sex scenes, bad language or the character I modeled after my alcoholic Uncle Harvey. Should I wait until she is dead?
Being a writer means spilling a certain amount of blood on the page, taking emotional risks. If you aren't at this point in your life, you aren't a writer.

7. I'm querying an agent. Should I send my first chapter or my best chapter?
If your first chapter isn't your best chapter, you're in deep doo-doo.

8. Who should I dedicate my book to?
Geez...

9. Should I include my picture with my submission?
Only if you're Brad Pitt or his wife old whatshername.

10. My life is kind of busy right now. Should I wait until (fill in the blank): my kids go to college, my wife gets her promotion, my basement is finished so I can set up a home office, I finish night school, I have more time, I have more money, I have more energy...?
No. You will never have the ideal conditions to write. Something will always come up to distract you -- if you let it. You must choose to write. You must do it knowing that nothing may ever come out of it but the satisfaction of finishing your manuscript. You must do it on faith. Poe was penniless and died in a sewer. He didn't wait until he had the right desk lamp.

14 Comments:

Blogger Bethany said...

I think I almost got writer's block just READING these excuses. :-) Come on people! Sit your butt down and write....

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Bob Morris said...

Well, at least Poe had ready access to morphine...

6:14 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

1. Should I use Word or Wordperfect?
Word is more common, even though more computers are bunding WordPerfect. If your editor wants one or the other, you can save files that are compatible.

2. Will a publisher or agent steal my idea if I submit it?
Arrogant. They'll be lucky to sell it no matter how good it is.

3. Do I need to get an agent?
You mean finished one manuscript. Most big publishers won't read you without one. Small publishers will.

4. What if they want me to change it?
They will. So don't sweat it.
Ditto!

5. Should I include a CD with my submission?
Paper is still the currency of choice in this business. Unless otherwise asked, don't bother with anything but. New York is a curiously 19th century place.

Even after they accept it they may want paper plus disks. They'll print galleys rather than send you PDFs with the commenting function on. 21st century? Nope.

6. I don't want my mother to read the sex scenes, bad language or the character I modeled after my alcoholic Uncle Harvey. Should I wait until she is dead?
Being a writer means spilling a certain amount of blood on the page, taking emotional risks. If you aren't at this point in your life, you aren't a writer.
Ditto.

7. I'm querying an agent. Should I send my first chapter or my best chapter?
If your first chapter isn't your best chapter, you're in deep doo-doo.

They claim they'll decide in the first 20 to 50 pages. That's bullshit. I bet they decide within one page or five. Don't you?

8. Who should I dedicate my book to?
Geez...
Well, I'm always available. But I'd be happier with a percentage of your royalties.

9. Should I include my picture with my submission?
Only if you're Brad Pitt or his wife old whatshername.
Or Sebastian Junger, but that's a whole different story.

10. My life is kind of busy right now. Should I wait until (fill in the blank): my kids go to college, my wife gets her promotion, my basement is finished so I can set up a home office, I finish night school, I have more time, I have more money, I have more energy...?
No. You will never have the ideal conditions to write. Something will always come up to distract you -- if you let it. You must choose to write. You must do it knowing that nothing may ever come out of it but the satisfaction of finishing your manuscript. You must do it on faith. Poe was penniless and died in a sewer. He didn't wait until he had the right desk lamp.

No, you're wrong. If you're too busy to write, don't. It's a crowded enough market as it is. I don't want the competition.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Great post. Thanks!

The perfect desk lamp might be a burning candle; the perfect word processor a fountain pen.

Just write the best story you can, and worry about the rest later.

Just write.

11:20 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Mark wrote: They claim they'll decide in the first 20 to 50 pages. That's bullshit. I bet they decide within one page or five. Don't you?

Five pages to tell if you can write? You bet. I do a lot of critiques and I can tell in one page. So put yourself in the shoes of an agent or editor who routinely culls through hundreds of submissions in a week. Does any aspiring writer think someone will bother if you can't hook them with good writing from the get-go?

Can't believe how often I have heard writers say "but if you had read up to page 30, you'd see the story picks up steam."

So what are pages 1-29? THROAT-CLEARING I call it. And don't get me started on prologues...

ARGH!

12:12 PM  
Blogger DZ Allen said...

Awesome post and great advice.

As an unpublished writer, I’ve experienced the bombardment of how to magazines and books. I’ve felt the frustration of trying to do everything just right. I finally got fed up with all the studying and just decided to write the damn book.

I also find that I learn more about writing from reading great books.

6:12 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

DZ,

I am a HUGE believer in the notion that the best way to learn the craft of writing is through READING and writing (practice...duh!) You may write several bad books until you write a marketable one. But the person who can read with a critical eye --absorbing how a good writer achieves his effects -- that is a valuable tool.

Plus, you know? Some writing books are just not very good...

6:54 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

PJ,
I was thinking the same thing... there's a lot of questionable writing advice out there (and on the web, but that's a separate issue, I think), especially when it comes to marketing and approaching agents, etc. In other words, I have yet to read a really good book about the business of writing.

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Mary R said...

I would offer slightly different advice for #10.

If you are too wrapped up in a crisis life stage to work on a long project, at least work daily writing into your life. Fight for those moments fiercely. Natalie Goldberg recommends doing daily freewriting exercises for two years before deciding what form you want to write in and what your topic will be. (I don't know if I'd go that far, but take advantage of a time when you can't handle a novel to do stylistic and content explorations.)

12:45 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Natalie Goldberg recommends doing daily freewriting exercises for two years before deciding what form you want to write in and what your topic will be.

Mary,
Good advice from Natalie (above). Even you can't see yourself tackling a complete novel, you have to keep yourself in training, so to speak. Short stories are great for this, I've found. They let you stretch different muscles, try out ideas that don't necessarily hold up for the longer novel form. For a long time, I was free-lancing newspaper articles while I wrote books. (ballet criticism, dance and arts articles, travel features). Just the process of forcing myself to write these (on deadline!) kept me in shape for the book stuff.

To belabor the metaphor: Even if you feel you can't yet benchpress your weight, you should at least be doing daily dumbbell curls.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Great post!

4:37 PM  
Blogger Bryan D. Catherman said...

This is a good list, but who really has to ask, "Who should I dedicate my book to?" I'm not sure I want to read that author's book if they can't even figure out that one on their own.

8:59 AM  
Blogger David Terrenoire said...

I was sitting in my agent's office and it was filled, floor to celingin, with shelves of manuscript boxes. I asked how he found the time to read it all and he said, "I don't. I can tell within three pages if you can write. If I like the first three pages, I read more."

There you go, folks. Three pages. The first three pages.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first read your blog,great

8:07 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home