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Blocked Writers and the Bloggers who Get Them

I don’t identify as a writer (such a risky, controversial lifestyle choice–what would my mother think?), but my editorial work and career path have proven to be surprisingly writing-intensive. I’m coming around to the idea, and learning–stop laughing–that writing is hard.

Now, as a professional who’s supposed to be a trusted judge of writing quality, with sage advice on developing manuscripts into saleable material, I feel an enormous pressure for my own writing to be consistently brilliant, deep, and “perfect.” Whether it’s an article, a blog post, or a manuscript critique, I often fret and obsess long past the point where such activity serves any useful function. The pursuit of this ideal defeats the purpose of writing itself. I believe (I know) that good writing has nothing to do with “correctness,” much less “perfection.” Writing strives to be an art, or a representation of speech, or a vehicle for the sharing of ideas. There is no room for “right” and “wrong” in that quest. They’re just distracting, enthusiasm-killing ideas.

Anyway, I get it. I get the bizarrely lost feeling of producing work with no guiding structure to conform it to, the queasy unease of arbitrarily calling it “done,” or “ready,” and the naked vulnerability of displaying it to someone else (indeed, to the entire internet), and I sympathize. But let’s find a way to deal with it and keep working.

Your work’s going to be imperfect as it first emerges from your brain, and it will always remain so, no matter how great it becomes. The trick is to find an acceptable place to stop obsessing over it and let it out into the world, where it may well be judged harshly or even, you know, mocked by former classmates. As you gain skill and experience as a writer, that place will become easier to identify and closer to what you’ll define as “ready.” For me, that means:

readiness, n. The state at which authorial cringes at word choice are over, and there is a minimal chance of Amazon-review postings by a miserable writer filled with regret at not recognizing a chance for a minor character to contribute more to the plot.

It is terrible to hear self-published authors complain that an older version of their book was unfairly critiqued and misunderstood, because “it’s so much better now”–utterly unprofessional. Bad. Don’t let that happen to you, and for the love of Whatever, don’t deliver your work to an editor or reviewer to read and then interrupt them with big changes and new ideas. That said,

Hand it in, student. Just post it, Katya. Submit already, dude. And as for the former classmates or whoever you’re sure are watching your every move, trust me: They’re terrified you’ll find their own fanfic LiveJournal or niche-market startup. It’s most likely safe to get over yourself and chill out.


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a New Word Order

Here it is, a real live website with my real name on it, professional-like. I have another, anonymous, publishing blog, but this one will contain fewer colorful metaphors and more…names. I hope you like it.

What’s coming

In addtion to writing and publishing Q&A, I’m going to offer a First Pages clinic here where I’ll share my thoughts as I read, treating the material as a slush reader and giving you an idea of how your work might be received.  Not actual slush, mind you, but my readers’ submissions. I’ll publish a Call for Pages terrectly.

Why the avenging?

Because this really is a grand adventure. And I’m feisty, I guess. I feel a massive overprotectiveness toward new writers that comes from wading in slush for so long–it pains me to watch them flounder in Publishingland, a confusing and sometimes scary place. And I have a wicked bloodlust for scam lit agents and other predators, so expect to see a lot about that.

I’m also an adult who reads comic books. Yeah, that’s right. I’m a literary anti-snob who loves mass market fiction, and who’s always been dissatisfied with the variety of reading material available to me and later, with publishing in general. Personally, I hope to one day work on anthologies of “street” literature from all over the world, broadening literary horizons in a lateral direction rather than the usual “upward” trajectory that bookworms (aspire to) follow.

We all have our aspirations. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to help new writers develop and navigate the publishing world. So bring on the questions. For right now, enjoy this TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, who I’ll flatter myself in thinking shares some of my feelings about books.


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