February 03, 2015

"I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told."

Oh, my word, THANK YOU, Ms. Harper Lee, for holding onto your work, despite your editor telling you to rewrite Scout's story a different way.

This is a literary boon for those of us who have read and reread our copies of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD until the edges of the pages have softened and stained. For those of us readers who fell in love with a big, big story and let the feelings it brought us burgeon into a desire to produce meaningful fiction of our own, this is A Big Deal. We readers-turned-writers need proof of successes snatched from "failures" like this. And, it is "failure" in quotation marks - because failures, in writing, in art, are often only in the eye of the creator.

It's like the fan artist wincing at the perception that their artistic interpretation is so much less awesome than the original character, superhero, etc., that they were celebrating with their sketch or painting or story. Meanwhile, everyone else who looks at the work is in shock and awe that they took the time and effort to do something. Likewise, writers should never consider something unworkable or unrevise-able or unfinish-able - maybe the actual manuscript, yes, but an idea is a seed, a germ, and ideas aren't something we should throw away. Also, this second Lee book says a lot to me about how, when we as writers have work rejected, we need to consider that it may be the editor, the time period, the house, and the already published list: it doesn't mean our work isn't fit for consumption.

Of course, these are hard things to keep in mind, especially when writing and selling and all feel so... fraught, so imbalanced, in terms of the artist's authority over their own work. But, it's a truth: not every work finds its right time and place right away -- but persistence and faith in ourselves pays off. Maybe you got smacked down as a first-time writer, or early in your process, and you've kind of been stuck since then - you backed down and did what you were told, even if it felt like it went against your personal grain. Unfortunately, that happens - but Ms. Lee is a reminder that you can get up and keep writing - keep submitting your work - and that good things can still happen.

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