Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One of the Many

by Annette Lyon

Nearly fourteen years ago, I took a university creative writing class from Dr. T, a professor who was himself an award-winning novelist. I looked forward to sitting at his feet and learning from one of the greats.

On one of the very first days of class, however, he announced that the chances of any of us ever getting published was pretty small, and that too many aspiring writers are encouraged. That we really shouldn't be encouraging so many of them, because there's too many already.

Um, thanks? I sat there, stunned. This is what I signed up for? A teacher who didn't think there was a point in encouraging his students?

When my first book came out, I was tempted to send him a note that said, "neener-neener."

But now? I almost (not quite, but almost) agree with him.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if I turned out to be the only student in that class to get published. I had the fire; I wasn't about to be stopped. But did the rest of them have that same need? From what I saw, most of them saw writing as a fun little thing to do.

In the years since, I cannot count how many people have told me that they "want to write a book." But there's always an excuse: they don't have the time (and I magically do?), or they don't know how (and I magically did?) or whatever the excuse of the day might be.

The reality is that these kinds of aspiring writers probably shouldn't be encouraged, because they aren't serious about it. It's a waste of the mentor's time and a waste of the writer's time.

Frankly, Dr. T had a point: there isn't enough room in the publishing business for everyone who wants to be there. Competition is fierce, and unless you're willing to fight the good fight, you won't make it.

If a publishing contract landed the laps of these people, they'd love it. But here's the problem: they aren't willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears that it almost always takes to reach that point.

So here's the question each of us must answer for ourselves: Does the flame of writing burn inside you? Do you have to write? Do you want to be published the way you "want" oxygen?

If yes, then stay on this path. Most people who embark on it eventually fall off it, while those who stay on eventually make it through.

It isn't easy. But the journey is worth it, if you're willing to pay the price.

In a sense, I think that's what Dr. T. meant.

(Oh, and I did send him a postcard announcing my first book. Just to let him know about it. Ya know, just 'cause.)


Curtis said...

This is an interesting post. I'm currently finishing my degree in the Creative Writing program at Utah State, and I've heard the same thing from nearly every professor in the program. At first, I was discouraged, and it took a lot of the wind out of my sails. I kept writing, however, and I have done my best to incorporate each life lesson—and lesson plan—into my writing, and I know it has made me a better writer. It has also given me the motivation to succeed, because my ego and my muse won't let me give up on my dream! Hopefully one day I'll have what it takes to become a good writer, and hopefully someone in the publishing industry will notice, but until then, I'll continue to stay up until 3 AM—after work and school—because that's the only time I have to write, and I'll continue to squeeze in time on my laptop on my 15 minute breaks, and I'll allow my characters as much space in my head as I can, and I'll continue to read voraciously because that's what makes me happy.

Becoming published is like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the pleasure for me isn't in the gold, it's all the pretty colors along the way. I sure could use that pot though. :)

Julie Wright said...

Love this and I agree. I had a similar experience with an author who came to speak to my school.

Karlene said...

You said, "The reality is that these kinds of aspiring writers probably shouldn't be encouraged, because they aren't serious about it. It's a waste of the mentor's time and a waste of the writer's time."

No, no, no, no, no! I so disagree. Everyone should be encouraged to write. It's never a waste of time--even if all they do is write little stories for their children, or blog or letters to missionaries.

Words are the foundations of our realities. They are the interpretations of our experience. They are how we communicate. They are powerful. They are holy.

Anyone with a desire to learn to use words more fully should be encouraged. Writing is a beautiful thing. I'd happily waste my time with anyone who wanted to learn to write (well, as long as they paid me for my time).

However, the point that you have to be on fire with the desire to write and publish or you won't make it--that I can agree with.

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

I loved this post. At first, I worried after reading what your teacher said, but by the end, I knew I'd be one who was published one day.

The fire does burn in me and it is burning bright. I want it so bad and truly, nothing will stop me.

Day after day I get closer and I can't wait. I love the challenge and I know the first time I get a rejection I'll feel bad, but I also know it will happen.

Anyway, I'm prepared to do what it takes and I am so grateful for the friends and people I have met along the way so far. I love this blog and the help it has been! Be watching for me at the conference in April! I'll be there!

Heather B. Moore said...


is a theme I wish those college professors would talk about over the fact that it's very tough to get published. Of course it is, but if it's truly our dream, it will happen.

When I started writing my first book (I was 30), I took an off-campus creative writing/publishing workshop. The instructor said, "I'm so sick of stay-at-home moms thinking they can make a buck off of writing a book in their spare time."

It shook me to the core because I fit into that category. But then I used it as fuel to motivate me even more.

Now, it's 8 years later and I have book #6 coming out this year.


And never look back!

(Incidentally, I have followed the instructor's writing career since he talked about trying to sell a book he wrote--he still hasn't published a book)

Annette Lyon said...

Karlene, I meant specifically encouraging writers w/out the fire to write FOR PUBLICATION. I absolutely agree with you that anyone and everyone can benefit from writing. It's a powerful force, and one too few people take advantage of.

Danette said...

I believe Curtis is going to start his own publishing company. Right Curtis! HAHA. I do hope my perseverence will pay. I have never been so passionate about anything, it's like this drive fell out of the sky and now controls my life. I hope it really did come from above. My only wish lately is that I get published before the end of the world.

Danette said...

Curtis is going to start up a publishing company, right? That might help. LOL! I never thought I would be soo obsessed about wanting to be an author. It's like this desire fell out of the sky. (hopefully that means something) All I hope for is that I get that coveted title (author) before the end of the world comes.

Kimberly said...

Love this post for so many reasons. I'm going to go with an analogy here. I think that many who skirt the edges of the literary pool have little idea how hard those swimming in it have to work to stay afloat. They see it as being a simple matter of catching the eye of a publisher who'll toss them a raft and voila! Floating along and famous.

For myself, I don't know if I have the talent and the drive to pull it off. I honestly don't. But even a day or two of not writing and I become edgy or morose. I don't feel like me anymore. I need to write.

Should I be encouraged to work towards publication? Maybe not. I'm not sure I have the chops.

Thanks to wonderful, wisdom sharing authors like yourself though, I'm going into it all with my eyes fairly wide open.

Rachelle said...

Great post Annette! Determination is the key to success. I'm glad you made it and thanks for sharing with all of us. :)