When I used to show my dog in the obedience ring, I had a joke with a friend. If a dog sat when he was supposed to down, wandered off when heeling, or jumped out of the ring to snag a jelly donut (before jumping back in!) it was ‘handler’s error.’ Translation: my fault.
My riding instructor said something similar this week. There are three of us taking classes together, all of us middle-aged, at different levels of experience and with very different horses. We are all having different problems, and the ray of sunshine that is my current instructor blamed it all on us. If the horse isn’t doing what you want it to do, she said, it’s your fault.
Either you aren’t communicating clearly enough what it is you want, you haven’t schooled on that particular issue enough, or you haven’t made it evident just how important this action is to you and committed to following through with appropriate consequences when your request isn’t met.
There are exceptions, of course — there always are — but in general, to be a good trainer or rider, you need to look in the mirror when things aren’t going your way.
It’s the same with publishing.
At Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace two weekends ago, I heard the same message over and over and OVER again from the published writers who were teaching classes: There’s always a way to get better. There’s always a way to improve. There’s always room to make your dialogue sharper, your plot more intense, your characters more believable.
Agents want to say yes.They need to say yes — their income depends on finding that next sellable book.
Editors want to say yes. They want a book that keeps them up at night, that makes them go past their stop on the subway, that has their whole department buzzing.
If they aren’t saying yes, there’s a reason.
There are exceptions, of course — there always are — but in general, to be a good writer, you need to look in the mirror when things aren’t going your way. You need to own what you can control, need to work it as hard as you can, so that if a ‘no’ comes your way, you know it’s not because of you, because YOUR writing is tight, YOUR dialogue sparkles, YOUR plot is heart-poundingly intense.
To paraphrase writer Matt Bell (who does so many revisions on his novels he made my head hurt) you have to be in it for the work, not the glory, because the glory may never come.
Do the work.