Archive for May, 2010

The Abraham Lincoln Method

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

At Beaumont Hardy, I meet many writers struggling with writer’s block. Although no amount of editorial coaching can pull a writer through a “dry spell,” I argue that any writing is better than no writing. Even a terrible rough draft can yield positive writing results. The point is just to write. I now propose the Abraham Lincoln Method for putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and writing that rough draft.

Our 16th President famously studied by candlelight, refusing to allow less-than-ideal conditions to deter him from his reading and writing. We all know how far Abraham Lincoln’s candlelit writing sessions took him. I advocate writing under the same conditions Abraham Lincoln once did, as a stimulant for creativity

On a night when you can guarantee an hour or two of solitude, I recommend clearing a table of everything but a note pad or computer; turning off every light, radio, television or electronic gadget in the room; lighting several candles; and settling in to write a rough draft. This is the Abraham Lincoln Method.

Not only is this method energy-efficient, it can also be highly productive. Writing in a new environment–even just a new lighting environment–can stimulate creativity in surprising ways. Many writers work with constant noise distractions, and the silence of an electronics-free room can be mentally freeing. The flickering of the candlelight is also oddly conducive to reflection and introspection, gently stimulating the imagination. And turning off all the lights and every electronic gadget makes for absolutely no visual distractions–no sudden impulses to dust or to rearrange tchotchkes before writing the next sentence. Staring off into a room’s darkness is simultaneously frightening and thrilling, and I argue that this combination of emotions, tinged as it is with the primeval elements of darkness and fire, can inspire even the most uninspired of writers.

The Abraham Lincoln Method honors one of our most diligent and scholarly of Presidents, and it carries with it the flickering light of hope that we might achieve some of his greatness.

Submissions: No Reason to Fear

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Many as-yet-unpublished authors long to see their work in print but might never do so. Their problem is not a lack of writing ability, a lack of ideas or even a lack of a finished piece of writing. Instead, what stops them is a fear of the submission process itself. Writers list various reasons for their submissions fears, but at Beaumont Hardy, we want to reassure them that submission should be the least of their worries.

One submission fear that writers seem to share is that their work will face mockery and criticism from editors. This fear sometimes spreads to the writing process, and writers become self-conscious in the very act of creation. They imagine the sneering editors who will ultimately read their work, and they begin to write defensively, protecting themselves from the criticism they imagine editors might make.

Having worked at a literary agency, I always reassure writers that the professionals at the other end of the submission process have little time to criticize or make fun of the work they receive. The smallest literary agency can receive hundreds of unsolicited queries a week, the entire staff working constantly to keep the office from being inundated with manuscripts and letters. An agent or editor who must plow through dozens–or even hundreds–of author submissions per day has very little time to engage in mocking or criticism. In fact, individual authors often make very little impression on the harried editorial staff. While this fact is of concern to writers hoping to be noticed for publication, it should be reassuring to the authors who fear ridicule. Editors and agents have too little time and very little inclination for mockery.

Another related submission fear stems from the writers’ knowledge that complete strangers will be judging their work. Writers wonder if they should cater their work to these gatekeeping readers or whether these strangers will completely misunderstand their creative impulses. Some of my clients tell me that they are unable to submit their work when they know nothing about the person who will be reading it.

I argue that writing is universal and that its beauty lies in the fact that complete strangers can understand and appreciate the work of someone they have never met. Professional editors and agents can understand innovative and unusual writing and will recognize the creative impulses of writers they do not know. Writers, I believe, should write whatever moves them and trust that the most unknown of readers, editors and agents will be able to relate to what they have written.

Still other writers fear the rejection involved in submission. For most—perhaps, all—writers, some amount of rejection is practically guaranteed, but that should be no reason to avoid submission. In fact, the more a writer experiences rejection, the less painful it becomes and the more rewarding is an ultimate acceptance. And of course, the only rejection-free submission is no submission at all—the worst possible path to publication.

For better or worse, I tell writers that they can find safety in numbers when submitting their work. The sheer number of submissions makes it more difficult to get published. However, this sheer number guarantees a certain anonymity and safety to the process. Editors and agents read so many, many submissions that they are virtually unable to single any one out for mockery and derision. They rarely remember a particular author after reviewing his or her submission and hardly ever know when that author submits a new piece of writing after an initial rejection. Editors and agents read so many submissions that they have a deep understanding of good writing and good creative impulses and can be trusted to recognize solid work when they see it.

At Beaumont Hardy, I am happy to help any writer prepare his or her work for ultimate submission. The submission process is absolutely nothing to fear.