Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hope Is Not A Strategy*

As tight-fisted as Mother Time is, those of us who pursue writing as a sidelight have some particularly hard decisions to make.

In my writing life, I've tended to shoot for the moon, writing spec scripts and novels in the hope of inducing heady auctions that end in six figure deals and an ocean view home in the hills of Malibu.

The difficulty with such a strategy, if you can call it a strategy at all, is that it carries the stench of desperation, much like the dreamers among us who will be saved by the big lottery win.

Even ignoring the financial aspects, the external rewards for novelists and screenwriters are very few and far between. It's possible, even likely, that a writer will labor for months and years at a time without having any real sense of whether he's doing publishable work (or even work that has any drive, makes any sense, deserves to be written).

Another strategy, one that's making more and more sense to me in recent days, is to take a more balanced approach, writing both long and short-form fiction, submitting to markets both small and large.

The benefits, on the feedback side, are immediate and obvious. If you're doing good work, you have an opportunity to be told so, and to be rewarded in the short term. If, on the other hand, you're crafting dreck, you'll know that soon, as well, and won't have wasted months of your life chasing something that has no prospect of publication.

Another nice side-effect of chasing the smaller story is that this kind of writing demands precision of craft that you may well not develop writing only longer stories. The efficiency necessary to telling a good story in 500 words forces a level of craft that few people who've only written novels can understand. And this skill ultimately extends very well to the longer forms, when the backbone, high-pressure scenes require all the craft you can muster.

I have no idea, yet, how to ballance the work on my novel with the shorter forms. For now, I'm probably leaning too heavily toward the latter. But I am utterly convinced that a solid balance between the two will give me the level of feedback I need from the world and will improve my craft.

*This is the title of a book on sales. While I am not a salesman, the thoughts implied by the title alone nearly convinced me to buy the book.

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