Don’t Speak: On Writers and Angst and How to Deal

Posted by houndrat on Saturday Feb 19, 2011 Under writing, Young Adult

Is it just me, or does a ton of publishing advice lately seem to revolve around telling writers to glue their tongues to the roofs of their mouths? Rules. Everywhere you look, more and more rules. But these rules aren’t about writing—at least, not as it pertains to drafting novels. They’re more a list of what writers SHOULDN’T write about on the internet. A list of writer DON’Ts. Such as:

DON’T talk about the querying process
DON’T talk about the submission process
DON’T talk about agents
DON’T talk about books unless you LOVE them
DON’T talk about anything negative
DON’T talk
DON’T talk
DON’T talk

Zip it!

This might sound easy, simple, cake-esque. The truth is, it’s not. Not at all.
Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that we have this mindset, that talking about anything other than successes or double rainbows is taboo.

For one:

There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding parts of the publishing process, especially if we’re talking about going on submission to editors. Which makes sense, given how we’re lectured up and down that what happens on sub, stays in Vegas. Or, yanno. But for me, this policy is problematic. It’s problematic, because new authors going on sub for the first time only hear about the huge success stories—you know the ones, about the books that went to auction after, like, two minutes—and have NO CLUE about the more common stories. The ones where it takes weeks, months, years, even a second or third or fifth book to sell. And, if we writers follow The Rules, we have no way of accessing that information. Because we aren’t allowed to take about it. See the problem yet? (for an amazing post by a writer who shared her submission journey, go to Natalie Whipple’s blog)

For two:

Us writers? We’re angsty creatures by nature. We can angst over things that most people wouldn’t bother devoting even an eighth of a brain cell to. Things like, “I can’t tell if my agent was mad at me in that last email—she didn’t use any <3’s this time,” or “I just lost a follower on twitter. One! Whole! Follower! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” or “OMG, did you see that another YA contemporary set on the planet EARTH sold on PM? That’s right—EARTH, just like mine! My novel is doomed!”

Bottling up this angst? Not good. Not good at all. Not unless we want to trigger our own Writerpocalypse, which, while potentially far more colorful than the Snowpocalypse, would also involve a whole lot more clean-up. And bleach.

I’ll be honest. Even WRITING this post makes me a little angsty. I worry I’ll be labeled a troublemaker or a complainer or that-writer-who-used-the-word-angst-way-too-many-times-in-one-post. No, honestly, that’s just how it feels. Like once you decide to become a writer, you’d better run and sign up for a daily sunshine enema, because God forbid you ever mention you’re experiencing any of those less-than-perfect feelings writers naturally feel once they get serious about…writing.

On a more serious note, I get that writers should be cautious online, and that no one wants to hear a constant stream of negativity. But at the same time, no one wants to feel like they’re being smothered, either, or as a writer friend recently said, “sanitized.” Or rendered voice-less. Writing is a socially isolating endeavor, and that leaves writers at a higher risk of certain health issues already. So angsting suffering in silence may not be the wisest solution.

My suggestion, and one that I hope satisfies both sides? Form a safe haven for yourself, a place where you can discuss the anxiety-ridden parts of being a writer without worrying about repercussions. I’ve actually created a list of “Writer Dos” to replace those “Writer Don’ts” because personally, I find “Dos” much more palatable.

DO group up with other writers, some of whom are at the same place in their publishing careers as you.
DO form a private discussion group (such as Google Groups), email list, or forum (such as invisionfree or forumotion.
DO make sure everyone knows the new forum and its contents are to remain PRIVATE, at the penalty of offenders having their Macs replaced with manual typewriters.
DO use that group to angst as needed. Vent and moan and groan all you want about querying and subbing and who wrote the most ridiculous book ever, and why, oh why, can’t people STOP writing contemporaries set on YOUR PLANET until your book sells?
DO read all the information you can on what different publishing professionals say about online protocol. Read it, and then come to your own conclusions.

And if reaching out to other writers and honestly voicing my opinion here makes me a complainer? You know what? I can live with that.

Also, just because:

needs ketchup!

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