First, a little personal background. There was a time when I had a real life as a working writer. Honest. Not only did I have an agent for my screenplays, I actually worked in Hollyweird as a script doctor, as well as reading dozens of scripts for critique and/or passing on to higher ups. I also wrote novels. And in my spare time, I worked as managing editor of a university cultural arts magazine and state judge for a poetry review. I was interviewed for a book about entering screenplay contests and winning, probably because I’d won quite a few of those in my time, and enjoyed the wining and dining that went along with the prize. People whispered and pointed at me when I walked into seminars and general meetings for writers–the proverbial big fish in a very tiny pond. I never lost sigh of how fragile the career of a writer is, or how little my credentials meant in the face of work yet to be done.
Don’t ever think this world won’t throw you curve balls that knock you out of the ball field. It happens. Sooner or later, you will be faced with decisions, all of which will demand living with regrets. I’ve already come up against that smack-you-down curve ball, and I made the best decision I was capable of making at that time. I abandoned my writing for something I considered more important. That “something” is something I don’t want to go into here. Just accept that Stuff happens, and learn to chose your regrets wisely. You ain’t getting out of this life without a pot load.
During the more than 12 years I took off from writing, I lost my Inner Bitch. She was the Me that scanned manuscripts hoping, praying, begging for the tiniest of flaws so I could pitch it and flatten the slush pile just a little bit. When facing my inbox, or dealing with my own work and knowing how the mind of an editor works, I fastened the sassy gangster hat in place my Inner Bitch favored, then went to work. Oh, the woe of the slush pile. Oh, the horror of knowing I was in someone else’s slush pile. I needed my Bitch in place to save my sanity as an editor. And, of course, to get my own work past the first reading of the first grunt acting as gatekeeper to the inner sanctum.
I hated it. From both sides of the desk, I approached submissions with fear, dread, loathing, and a prayer. Although I hated leaving my career, I didn’t miss the mindset that went along with it. I’m a nice person by nature, and my Inner Bitch was not my favorite personae. I dearly loved those years when she lay pale and lifeless in the grave I dug for her. When I was ready for a return to writing and excited about this brave new world of indie publishing, I thought I was returning to Paradise restored.
Nope. No such luck.
And that is how my Inner Bitch has risen from the dead. This does not put me in a good mood.
The reason she’s back is because this is the best of times and the worst of times for writers. The gatekeepers are tumbling like dominoes as indie writers flood the market. I’m still trying to figure out this new terrain as a writer, and as a reader (here comes the heartbreak), I’m finding myself, once again, facing the slush pile.
Thank God the doors are now open for new writers. Halleluiah for readers! No longer are they kept from works they might never have read in days gone by. But, come on, guys, enough with the slush pile. I’ve discovered some kick-ass indie writers during this last year of rabid reading, but I’ve gone through far too much junk finding them. Take my money, take my car, take my lover, but don’t dare take my time. Once it’s gone, I can’t ever get it back, and that’s just the kind of hot blood that sets my Inner Bitch’s nose on fire and wakes her up.
For the first time ever, I’ve returned books to Amazon because they were junk. I’ve had it. My pleasure reading has gone into editor mode, and it’s the Inner Bitch who now reads the first ten pages of a book. She’s ruthless. She’s protecting me and my time. She’s got a wicked eye for any little thing that even hintsat crappy writing and the foolishness of sticking with a book to the end without ever being re-paid for time spent. She could care less if a writer gets going 50 pages in and turns on the storytelling juice, she wants it right up front, and she wants it with strength of language well-crafted and tantalizing, yet subtle and insidious. (Well, most of the time that’s how she likes it.) She doesn’t care if the writer has startling twists and turns at the end of page one. She’s a vampire looking for writing that pulses with energy and life, writing with a pulse. She reads because it feeds her, and she’s one hungry Bitch.
Thankfully, she’s not a snob. She will gladly settle for language that is less than powerful, just as long as it’s clean, to the point, and active. Please, Strunk & White’s primer on writing is a slim little book. Read it, practice what it preaches. No writer need do more than that. The Inner Bitch does not require the mastery of language displayed by Shakespeare, Dickens, Burke, or Hemingway for a damned fine read, just that the writer doesn’t clunkity-clunk-clunk as they head towards story. Why, just today I caught her reading Nora Roberts and heard her mumble, “No thrilling use of language here, but the ride sure is sweet.” I think what she wants is language that’s either a major element of the work or bows out with grace. She prefers some muscle of language in her reading, but she sometimes she enjoys cruising through the neighborhood of another’s imagination.
She also has her Hit List. It’s short, but resolute. She’d like to kill the word “something.” If a writer writes something (uh-oh, she’s gonna get me, too) like: “There’s something about a Popsicle that…” you can literally hear her bones cracking as she transforms into a werewolf. If there’s “something” about something that defines the character experiencing that something (oh, she’s going to slaughter me for sure), then define it. So much can be told about a character when there’s a “something” that tickles their fancy. The use of “something” is an opportunity missed, and she hates waste. She wants it clean, lean, and right now, and the vagueness of “something” is the polar opposite. It’s the toxic waste of writing.
Another thing that sets her blood boiling is the new game of you-give-me-good-reviews-and-I’ll-give-you-good-ones-too. There’s a lot of that going on in this brave new world of indie publishing, and she’s got an eye that catches it every time, especially when one person posts multiple reviews for the same book. She’s always checking the social network before getting pissed off, making sure it isn’t an over-eager mistake by a random reader. She’s yet to find these multiple five-star raters who aren’t fast friends with the writer. And–ho-boy–has she ever bitched loud and clear about it on the phone to TPTB at Amazon. The Inner Bitch isn’t being bitchy, she’s actually being protective of this new kingdom of indies and trolling for corruption. She does not want the collapse of the kingdom.
Now this is sweet. I think she’s fallen asleep, at least for the moment. Yes, she’s definitely gone now. I can’t feel her gun against my temple, forcing me to write in a way I, personally, find unkind and harsh. I was raised to keep my mouth shut if I can’t say something nice. But I was also raised knowing that life is not always nice and fair and sweet and fun, and that often the greatest rewards come from the most nasty situations.
The truth is nasty. Truth is subjective, and that’s the real bitch in all of this.
Write on, write strong, write proud, write wide awake, write from that place where the heart and soul sweat, and write with clean bold lines that define the coffin of the Inner Bitch within us all. Don’t write as I do, write as you do at your absolute best. Suck out loud and own it–you can’t throw away what you don’t possess (and I own the lousy writing of this post).
When someone chooses you over another, understand they’re giving you the gift of their time. Don’t be a thief. Grab them by the throat in the first paragraph, or cradle them with a touch so firm and comforting they won’t ever want to leave you. Respect what they’re giving up for you and don’t betray that trust. Don’t be flattered by your socially networked friends, most of whom will shine your fanny in hopes you’ll return the favor, or some other favor even less appealing. Slaughter the slush pile before it slays the indie movement. Be a pal to your friends by being honest but kind.
Write from a deep and quiet place, no matter which genre you choose. And always remember how lightly the Inner Bitch sleeps, and how easily she’s awakened by the clunkity-clunk-clunk of junk.
Shhhh. I’m on tippy-toe now and making my exit before she’s stirred from sleep and reads what I’ve written without her watchful eye.