Kat: Purses & Pigs

There’s an old idiom that feels appropriate to me this week: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  I’m not sure who said it or why, but obviously they weren’t talking about writers. Right now, that’s exactly  what I’m trying to do, and the thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

As I write this most of the eight ladies are cranking out words and sentences and scenes (100 pages worth) in order to finish off the last assignment in our first McD workshop class. A rough draft of Act I is due and for most of us, it’s the first major chunk of writing we’ve had to turn in. So for the past week and half I’ve spent every waking moment writing the remaining scenes that will finish out my Act One, and it’s starting to feel like I’m cranking out sausage. And like sausage, what I’m turning out right now is a slapdash mess of everything my fried brain can serve up and then smush together.  I can’t help thinking that most of the ingredients belong in the trashcan–like the stuff that goes into ground pork.

Which set me to thinking. During the McD class on publishing one of our assignments was to determine the kind of writing career we wanted.  Someone mentioned an up and coming author (who I used to love) who was told that she had to turn out more than one book a year if she wanted to hit the NYT best seller’s list . Well, she’s churning out three books a year now (no, she’s still not on the NYT list) and her writing is suffering for it. Her formerly sparking characterizations and fast moving stories are now bogged down in oodles of backstory and chat, with little conflict. I thought of that poor unfortunate wretch this week as I worked to get my pages done and made a promise to myself. If (when) I’m published I will resist all efforts designed to turn me into a sausage grinder—including my own ambition.

Right now, I’m looking forward to finishing my little sow’s ear because after that, I’ll start the process I truly love: editing it, reworking it, and rewriting it until it turns into a purse.  Okay probably not a purse, but something that shimmers a little or at minimum doesn’t stink like a piggie.

So here’s to all the writers who are grinding out pork this week: fear not because while that old idiom is partially true, it’s also incomplete when talking about writers.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear UNTIL you produce the pig. So, just crank it out everyone. Crank it out.

16 thoughts on “Kat: Purses & Pigs

  1. I know what you mean about that “cranking it out” feeling. I’m looking forward to being done with this part of the draft so that I have something concrete to work with.

  2. It’s sad that the other writer you mention gave in and began writing three books a year, even without achieving that NYT bestseller goal. A friend of my housemates’ has a number of series for YA and adults that she writes, and she writes four books a year. The series are all popular and I guess she’s got a decent income from her writing, but I’m not sure that she enjoys writing anymore. I think it’s just another job for her now.

    For me, that would take away the whole point of writing. I enjoy it (even when I hate it), and I love making a well-crafted story. I’d love to make a living off of my writing, but I’d rather enjoy doing it than make a lot of money if it came down to that choice. I never want it to be just another job.

    • Oh, I definitely agree, Skye. Still, the pressure to produce more product, particularly when you’re just coming up must be tremendous. Obviously it takes more than simply cranking out multiple books a year to hit the NYT list (SEP has done it and I think she produces one book every two years). And really, I see it as counterproductive. This author has lost me as reader (for one) because her writing isn’t what it was (the joy is truly gone), and if you can’t hold the readers you have because you’re churning out inferior books, I don’t see how that will help you make it.

      • One of my favorite authors wrote three books over a period of a few years, and when she finally sold one, the publisher took all three and said something like, “If you can give me three books a year, you’ll be a star, kid!” It gave her a big scare, she says. But, after a little more chatting, she turned into an author who produced a book a year, on average. And she was able to make a living off of it.

        All my favorite authors seem to be “once a year” or so authors. And, one of the best-sellers of all time, JK Rowling, definitely didn’t crank out three books a year.

        I think if you produce good books, a good publisher will respect that and give you the time you need to produce them. They can get thousands of crap-to-almost-good books. If it takes a year (or two, or twenty) to produce a good-to-great book, I think you’ll find a market for it.

        (-: Next on our list of publishing nightmares: define “good book.” LOL. Never mind, we have books to write. We’ll know it when we see it . . . .

  3. Kat: that’s an interesting perspective. What are folks willing to give up to have a writing career? If it’s something they love, and that love turns into a job, how many folks love their jobs? Is it inevitable that HAVING to write takes the joy away? In the 2011 Forbes Top Ten Happiest Jobs list, Author is no. 4. “For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.” I don’t know if you can have it both ways. If you love to write but you only want to do it when you find the time, will you ever be any good? Or do some folks care if they are good and the point of writing is pure distraction? I guess it depends on each writer’s goal. But, it is something I think they should analyze before turning pro. Can you do this full time?

    • # 4 on Ten Happiest Job List. Wow. No wonder so many of us want to write full time despite the low pay and long hours. Given that, being “forced” to write simply because it’s your job probably doesn’t strip the joy from it. I think (this is a guess) that the joy goes when writing becomes all about the money. Putting your heart’s desire aside (telling your story), in deference to the whims of book publishing, say. Unrealistic time pressure will also kill the joy of writing quicker than anything else (this week has taught me that). Most of us need time to create. We write, brainstorm, step back from what we’re written and let it rest, rewrite, and so on. The process of creation takes time, but the process of making money (time is money) tends push the writer into simply producing words. To, me that’s when the joy truly goes.

    • I consistently make time for writing every day. I think that’s the key to becoming a good writer, not necessarily writing full time. Many published authors begin as part time writers (with full time day jobs). Still, writing full time seems to be “The Dream” for most of us.

      • This is one of my favorite quotes of Ray Bradbury and it is about you, Kat. You have got the secret down.
        “If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
        I have no doubt that you will.

        • I love this Bradbury quote. (-: Especially the bit about reading dreadful, dumb books. Sometimes that’s a real motivator — part “If they can be published, so can I” and part “I could write a better story than this” competitiveness. And even in the dumbest books, there are sometimes amazing kernels of ideas.

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