'Tis the Season—
Twelve Gifts for Writers
Copyright 2002 by Patricia Anderson
The winter months are a time of celebration, renewal--and giving. From the open-handedness of the great religious holidays to the chocolates and flowers of Valentine's Day, gift-giving is not only an act of real graciousness but also one of symbolic resonance.
In the best spirit of this season of giving, here's wishing all of you an even dozen great gifts for writers. Some are tangible and of practical value. Others are intangible—and invaluable.
The Twelve Gifts
One: A Good Idea
Ironically, you can't copyright an idea. And yet where would we be without them? Good books start with good ideas.
Two: A Space of Your Own
For Virginia Woolf, it was a whole room. For other authors it has been a crowded corner of a room, the end of a table, a seat on an airplane . . . The point is, for however long you need it, the space must be yours—only yours—and dedicated to your writing.
Three: Time to Yourself
When it's taken up with routine chores, unforeseen problems, and anything that isn't writing, time is the author's worst enemy. But when it's your time and full of your thoughts, it's your greatest ally. Somewhere in even the busiest week is an hour or two of time for yourself and your writing. The challenge—and the gift—is to find it.
Four: The Necessary Discipline
Ideas, space, and time are worth nothing without the discipline to use them. The tried and true formula for successful writing will always prevail: "Apply seat of pants to seat of chair."
Five: A Reliable Dictionary
Ideas without discipline come to nothing, and discipline without knowledge has little point. A good dictionary is the writer's one-stop knowledge source. Where else can you unravel the mysteries of gerunds and participles, get a crash course in Mendel's law, or discover the difference between being in thrall and being enthralled?
Six: Staying Power
Staying power, or perseverance, is a huge gift, because it is the source of other good things: a completed, well-polished manuscript, an agent to represent it, a publisher to bring it to fruition. Perseverance is the twenty-year climb that culminates in "overnight success."
Seven: An Effective Agent
Competent agents who are dedicated to their authors' careers are worth their weight in gold—literally and figuratively. For a refresher course on the ins and outs of seeking an effective agent, go to "A Is for Agent: A Primer for Writers Seeking Representation".
Eight: The Right Publisher
A contract with "MegaBooks, Publishers of the Stars" might impress your friends and spark envy among other writers. But a big publishing house is not for everyone—it can be like getting lost in a giant bureaucracy and, in the end, do more to diminish your ego than any number of rejections. In other words, be open minded—a small niche publisher may be a perfect match for you and give your book all the special attention it deserves. And don't forget another possibility: Increasingly these days, the right publisher for you could be you. Don't discount self-publishing. For an introduction to this possibility, see "Self-Publishing: New Options for Writers"
Nine: Fair Reviews
A cliche of the publishing business is: "There's no such thing as a bad review." The idea is that reviews are publicity, publicity sells books, and if the publicity generates controversy, it sells more books. To a point this remains true, but there's a difference between a review that is negative or stirs up controversy and one that is just plain bad in other senses. These days, the landscape of reviewing is blighted by many ill-educated, self-serving, and unethical reviewers who care little about knowledge, literature, or accurate representation of the book under review. May your path never cross theirs, may all your reviews be good--and your reviewers fair-minded.
Ten: Many Sales, Few Returns
Sales equal royalties; returns equal deductions from royalties. What more is there to add?
Eleven: A Supportive Network
One of the greatest of all gifts, your support system, is potentially everywhere and comes in many forms: a spouse or partner who does the laundry or the dishes while you write; a friend or relative who says, "I like the way you put that"; and other, more experienced writers who encourage you to keep going, because once they, too, were you.
Twelve: The Joy of Writing
To writers of all kinds, and at all stages from idea to published book, here's wishing you the initial euphoria, sustaining moments of elation, and lasting contentment—the incomparable joy—of writing. May you know it always.