Wake up, Polly Parrot.


What Writers Mean
by Brian Plante

Last month, I told you about some of the online places where writers like to hang out and chat. If you looked in some of those forums, it may seem like everyone is a professional writer, and here you are, only a lowly beginner. But something's odd: you've done some market research and read of books and magazines in the genres and you've never even heard of most of these other writers.

Don't worry, it's a natural thing for writers to try and pump themselves up in front of their peers. There's a little bit of William Shatner in everybody, I suppose. Big egos are pretty common among writers, so don't be afraid to mix it up with them just because they seem so much more advanced in their writing careers than you. Go right ahead inflating your own literary accomplishments, if you think you need to. It's not really dishonest, if you do it right. See, you don't have to actually lie to pump up your background. Hell, you're a writer -- be creative!

Perhaps it might help if I pointed out a few examples of the sort of self-congratulatory buzzwords the other newbie authors toss about, with a bit of explanation:

"My characters seem to have a life of their own," means the writer probably doesn't bother to outline a story before starting.

"I'm allowing myself to be bad," probably means the author is writing total crap and lots of it, usually in some sort of write-a-book-in-a-week challenge. Most of these works will never see the light of day, but the writer can chalk up one more book to her total "books I have in circulation" count. [An aside -- Mary Shelly's Frankenstein was first drafted in one of these weekend challenges, so who knows? Lightning may strike, but don't count on it.]

"I write 5000 words every day." The heckler in me always wants to reply, "Yeah, but how many do you sell?" Don't get too discouraged about other writers' production levels. Speed is not an indicator of quality.

"I'm writing a Young Adult novel," sometimes means that the writer already has lots of adult novels at all the regular publishers, and nobody's buying, so the writer thinks that writing for a younger audience will be easier. That writer is probably wrong.

"I'm sticking to short stories for the time being," could mean that the writer doesn't have the patience and fortitude to finish a novel. I, um, use this one a lot myself.

"I'm doing research for my next novel," could mean the writer is blocked or stalling.

"I'm taking a little time off from writing right now," probably means the writer is blocked and hasn't written a thing in six months.

"I just signed a three book deal," probably means the writer just joined a book club. Now she only has to buy one more book at regular club prices . . .

"My agent just loves my new book," means the writer's spouse told him it was pretty good.

"I write every single day," probably means that the writer is taking too seriously that old adage that "a writer is writing, even when he's just looking out the window." Or playing solitaire on the PC, or just watching television. You get the idea.

"I have several stories in [insert market name]'s inventory," means it's in the slush pile and she hasn't gotten a rejection letter back yet.

"I go to cons for networking," means the writer enjoys partying and fannish activity. Nothing wrong with that, but it only helps to further your writing if you network with people who can actually help you. Lots of real writers do just that, but some just like going to cons.

"I'm doing a signing," means a writer is parked at a table in a bookstore, where the busy patrons try to ignore him.

"Checking the stores for my book," means the writer is haunting every bookstore within a 100-mile radius, turning her book face out on the shelf, and ordering a copy if the store doesn't stock it.

"I prefer independent bookstores," means the events coordinator at the local Borders or Barnes & Noble told the writer to stop harassing them.

"I may go the self-publishing route," means nobody's buying this guy's book and he's desperate to see it in print, even if he has to pay for the privilege.

"I'm soliciting cover blurbs," means the writer is harassing big-name authors to say something nice about their book. This can be an embarrassing situation for all involved.

"I'm an associate member of SFWA," means the writer has sold one or two short stories.

"Appearing in a semi-pro market," usually means the writer got paid little or nothing to be published in a magazine that only a few people (mostly other writers) will ever see.

"Workshopping a story," often means the writer is taking advice from other beginning writers.

"I'm starting my fourth novel this year," may only mean the writer has read three novels this year.

"I have a story that's just perfect for that anthology." Yeah, in a trunk, covered in dust, and paper clipped to twenty or thirty rejection letters.

"[Insert editor name] said my story showed promise and asked to see more," means the writer doesn't realize that a thousand other writers received that same form letter.

"I'm having trouble with an important scene," may mean the writer hasn't got a clue where the story's going next.

"I always listen to [insert musical group or genre] when I write," perhaps to keep the writer's mind occupied when, ya know, no words are actually being written.

"My book's coming out next year from [insert name of publisher you've never heard of]," means it's probably a vanity press.

"I'm not in it for the money." Well, of course not; there's no money if nobody's buying her stuff.

"I'm busy with a book deadline," means the writer will have to pay twenty-five cents a day to the public library until they return a book that's overdue.

"I'm sending it out under a pen name." Gawd, if my mom ever read this, I'd just die.

"Me too," or "I dunno," replies on the forum mean the writer has nothing to say, but is busy keeping her name out there so we don't forget she's still there.

OK, you get the idea, now. One bit of caution, though: there are lots of real pros on the forums, and it may be hard to tell who's who unless you're very well read. When a real pro says he sold three books, you can believe it. But even if you're sure, don't ever challenge another writer's annoying attempts at self-aggrandizement. If the writer is the real deal, most of the other denizens already know it, and you'll just look silly trying to pooh-pooh her accomplishments. Even if the other author is a complete fraud, you'll have made an enemy, ready to blow down any house of cards you may attempt to erect on your own behalf.

If you happen to be one of those writers who posts regularly on the forums, and you feel slighted because I picked up on one of your pet phrases, I am truly sorry. You're probably one of the real professionals, not some pretending newbie, so I wasn't really talking about you. No, of course I wasn't talking about you! How could you think that? It's those other guys I meant.

On the forums, everybody's a pro -- even the ones who have never sold a story.

Copyright © 2003 Brian Plante Count= 5255

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