Make the Left Turn -- Dianne Pearce
I am a new blogger here at Authors Electric (welcome, me!) and I was going over and over what to write to you for my first post.
So, you should know a teensy bit about me, because why am I even here?
One thing people find out about me fairly quickly is my tendency to be tangential. So let me tell you about my mother’s friend, Nancy. Nancy worked as a telephone operator (Directory Assistance 411 in the USA) in Upper Darby, right on the edge of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania. Nancy was married to Bud, a blue collar guy. My mom was "from the 50s." Nancy was probably "from the 40s," so she'd never learned to drive. Bud would drive her to work, or my mom (also a telephone operator) would. But sometimes it just didn't work out, and, finally, Bud said Nancy had to learn how to drive. Nancy was in her mid-fifties then. And she did learn how to drive, but she was terrified of making left turns, so she only turned right, meaning that she’d drive around in a circle, making a short trip to the place right in front of her nose much longer than it needed to be.
(And if you could see me right now you would see me pointing at my face and grinning a bit sheepishly, because, in some instances that don’t involve driving, I cannot make a left turn.)
I have actually been a writer as long as I can remember, but I never gave myself the label unless I was tipsy at a party and trying to impress a man. I wrote all the time, studied creative writing and literature as an undergrad, then as a grad, then got my MFA... in writing. And yet....
I could finish the heck out of a poem, or a short story, but never a novel, which is what I wanted to write. In truth, I wanted to write Still Life with Woodpecker, but it was already written and had been so well-written that I knew I could never write that.
And I think that my life was a life of reactive decisions: someone I respect suggests I do X, and I decide that's what I want to do. Someone else says, "Hmmm, that not working out so good? How about Z?" And I get very involved in Z. And yet, I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to write a novel. This is the problem with using a lot of right turns to try and get you to the left: you're likely to overshoot the mark, or miss it completely, and end up where you did not want to be, or adjacent to where you wanted to be.
In another attempt to finally make that left turn, I began a writing group. The motto of the writing group was "Finish your damn novel!" The writing group met 2x/month on Sundays at my house, and my husband and I (both writers) shared our writing with a group of between 6-8 other authors. It went for seven years, until we moved this past spring.The writing group in no small way ended me up where I am now: the owner of an indie publishing company called Devil's Party Press. Why? Well, most of the folks who joined the group (I put out an open call to my community via FB and coffee shops) happened to be surprisingly good authors who had been at it in secret for awhile, and they also all happened to be over 40. We'd all either had life interfere with us getting enough time for our writing, or, for the older few in the group who were retired, no one seemed interested in their books. And I thought that maybe, for the second group, age was a factor. So I came up with a truly blindingly brilliant idea (yes, sarcasm... my ideas are only blindingly brilliant to me), which is that I would publish them! Why not? How hard could it be? And not only would I publish them, I would publish all authors with good books over the age of 40! So there, ageist world!
I think, in retrospect, that might have been another w...i...d...e right turn.
But I'm loaded in now! I'm committed.
And I am.
I absolutely love finding a book I consider to be a gem, and getting it out there. I am so happy to be able to give that opportunity to someone. Yes, writers are self-publishing in droves now, but some people are just not going to do that, and they tend to be the less-tech savvy people. And maybe, also, they are people with a bit of imposter syndrome, who need that experience of being chosen by a publisher to make them feel secure that they do have talent, so they are not going to throw their book into a template and stick it on Kindle.
I do wonder if the person able to self-publish a-book-a-month is benefitting from a certain lack of asking, "Is my book good or or not?" Or maybe that person has an abundance of stamina? Perhaps he/she/they has/have quite a bit of free time to write, or writes to a theme that is on-trend, like bullying werewolf romance. And if you don't get on the field you cannot win the game, right? So the werewolf romance folks are getting on the field, and those of us trying to come up with the next Still Life with Woodpecker are still writing away in secret.
When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his test for obscenity in 1964, he responded: "I know it when I see it." But do we?
I'm going to say that, yes, I do. No judgement on what gets someone through the night, but I do know it when I see it.
And the same goes for talent. I know talent when I see it. Why? What makes talent? Well that's a post for another day, and if I spent a lot of time considering it, as I have, I'd send half of what I've written either to the heap or back to the drawing board.
And I have.
Anyone can write, and anyone can get better at writing, and anyone can almost learn talent. We can all splash paint onto a canvas, Jackson Pollack, thank you very much, and we may enjoy seeing everyone's pieces, but some of those pieces are going to make some of us go, “Oh. Wow.”
My daughter, about to turn fourteen, wants to be a fine artist. And it's no accident she is into art; her dad, also an artist, has been drawing and creating with her since we adopted her at nine months. But her dad is a drawer, and a cubist, and our daughter is a water-color artist, primarily. And since about age four, all her art teachers have said to us over and over again that she has an extraordinary grasp of color. We would look at all the kindergarten kids' pictures of a fish with the usual scalloped waves over top of it, and they all look pretty cute to me, and I like them, and her teacher says, "Yes, but look at her colors." And I'm like, "Huh?"
That's talent in a nutshell. It's the ability to put some sort of cherry on top (with, maybe, some nuts from that nutshell). And if you haven't been trained to see it, you might not. But readers like me can, which is why I think I am a little better editor (if I may brag a teensy bit) than most, and why I am able to, like the art teachers, see the talent, and push the talent to reach for more, to help it expand. The art teacher asks my daughter a question about color that helps my daughter to think about her color choices and gives her little pushes in the best direction. She gets taught to recognize her own ability, and to push her own envelope by the teacher. I think that's where my talents lie as an editor too. Which, as I guess you have figured out, I also am, in addition to a publisher.
But that doesn't mean that the other kids' friends and families didn't love their fishes. Heck, I loved their fishes. And you should absolutely love your book, poem, short story, even the old awkward ones you wrote when you were sixteen.
So, that's the point. The point of this pointless post, I mean.
I should love and finish my damn novel. And you should love and finish yours too. And we're not supposed to say should or be prescriptive, and I want to prescribe for you that you should anyway. And so should I.
Make the left turn already.
And if you want to know more about me, you can hit-up my links. Thanks for reading!