Thursday, October 31, 2013

Starting to write fiction by Terry Burns

“I do want to start writing,” the author said in the workshop, “but I want to write fiction. I’m a storyteller. I’m having trouble getting started writing my stories.”
Just because somebody can cook a great hamburger doesn’t mean they are ready to open a restaurant. And just because someone can tell a great story doesn’t mean they can write those stories in a way that can be published. There are skills required to take a story into the proper written form, skills that can be mastered but ones that must be mastered to be successful.
I’m one of those writers myself. I don't consider myself a writer, but a storyteller trying to write my stories in such a way as to be entertaining. Virtually every time I tell somebody I'm a writer the people I'm talking to say, “I've always wanted to write a book,” or “I have all these great experiences that people keep telling me I should write down, “ or something of the sort. My response is always the same, “so, why haven't you?”
It is true that some may not be able to do it, but what’s the worst that can happen by trying? We end up with some cute stories we can pass down to our family. And it may well be that there will be Pulitzer Prize caliber stories that are never written because the one person who could have written them never tried.
What does it take to be a writer? You just write. That's it. A writer writes. Now to become a published writer, that takes a lot more, and to sustain yourself at it to the point where you can claim to be an author is still further up the tree. 
Do you have to wait until you get old and beat up like I am before you can start? Absolutely not. There are great markets even now that publish young writers. I published some poetry and some articles while I was still in high school. How do you get published in these markets? The same way all writers get published, you submit to them with a carefully worded letter, and you endure the rejection letters from all the places that don't want your work until you find the one that does like every other writer that ever lived. 
At any given time our work may only fit at one place in the whole publishing industry. But as soon as that opportunity closes, now it only fits at one place but that place is somewhere else. It’s like the skit that used to happen at the end of the old “Laugh In” show. People opening and closing windows while trading lines. That’s a perfect picture of the publishing industry. Or for those who do not remember that old show I’m sure you have seen the whack-a-mole game. It’s the same principle.
You see, it's not always about how good the writing is - even a great piece can be too early or too late. or they just did one like it, or not a good fit for the publisher, etc. It's like assembling a puzzle, and all of the pieces have to be in place for publication to occur.


Diana said...

Great word Terry. I cracked up at your word picture of Laugh-in's skit and whack-a-mole. SO TRUE! That is this industry but it doesn't mean we should quit!

Terry Burns said...

Yes, our job as agents is to know where there are windows open. At the last conference when I was trying to explain to a group what an agent does I said I was a Yentel, jewish word for matchmaker. It's my job to arrange marriages between publishers and authors.