Saturday, April 30, 2011

Writing is a Team Effort, a Relay Event

My son Jason, age 6, just won his first medal.  A bronze plastic medal that he so proudly wore, even when we made a pit stop at the hospital on the way home from the Sarawak Stadium.  His event was the gunny sack relay.  His team was way behind when he took over for the second leg and he hopped down that field in record time.  One of his teammates fell, but quickly scrambled to his feet, and they all made it to the medal standings.  It was truly a team effort.

His second event, he had to blow up a balloon until it burst and then run for the finish line.  Out of the eight individuals, only three managed to burst that balloon.  He didn’t even get a chance to run!  It was over.  I went over to console him, but he didn’t need to be consoled.  He was determined to burst that balloon as we walked back to the bleachers.  Then he did it.  He was so happy, and I felt proud.  Long after the race was finished, he was determined to succeed and he did.  This was not about winning; this was about sheer determination for him to prove to himself, and maybe me, that he could in fact burst that balloon!

Maybe this is why I keep revising my novels.  I’m determined to prove that I have what it takes to complete my task, and if another rewrite is required, so be it.  Just do what it takes and reach that finish line.

Although writing is an individual pursuit, and it’s not a race, it is a team effort and it is also a relay event.  As a writer, I’m merely the first leg. The second leg in this relay will be an agent, followed by the editor of a publishing house, and then the marketing/publicity team takes over.

There are also several finishing lines.  One is completing the novel, the inevitable rewrites, the agent requested rewrites (offering their input to make the novel more salable).  Then the rewrites that the publisher may insist upon, this can involve some minor editing or a major overhaul (offering their input to make the novel even better). The finish line will be when the book reaches the bookstores or e-book readers.  But the real finish line is when the book ends up in a reader’s hands after they purchase it, or on their bookshelf, after they’ve read it (and hopefully recommended it to others).

As a writer, don’t kid yourself about winning on your own.  Even on that first leg, you rarely write alone.  If you’re smart, you’ll get feedback from your reader friends and spouses (gut level reactions from some; detailed comments from others) and from any editors that you may have worked with on your own to take the manuscript to a higher level (highly recommended if you want to attract an agent).  The more eyes on this (and less ego on your part) the better for everyone.  It’s up to you to incorporate those changes (or dismiss the ones that you strongly disagree with)

Then there are also those cryptic comments from agents that may have turned you down.  Those comments, if you’re lucky to get them, may force you to rethink your novel, or bolster an area that isn’t quite working.  Study those comments.  If the novel isn’t grabbing an agent’s interest there’s a reason.  Find out why!   If you choose to ignore those comments, it’s at your own peril. Writers are often too close to their own project; they don’t see the flaws that jump out at agents (remember they read thousands of unpublished manuscripts).

In a novel that I’m the midst of rewriting, I’m amazed by what’s all in it.  Over the years, huge sections have been weaved into the novel to address flaws in the early draft, often pointed out by some well meaning agent or editor.  So after taking another look at the novel, I would get an idea, how about if I try this or that . . . and then off I’d go sketching out ideas and looking for places to work it in, followed by more rounds of rewrites that can only make the novel better.  Yeah, you can also make a novel worse, but then you’ll get more feedback on that, too!

Again, don’t kid yourself, without all the others in your relay team you’re never going to win a medal or a trophy in this writing game.  If you still have doubts, open any book to the acknowledgment page.  Dozens of people are named.  Without them, you have no published book.  This is what happened to my friend who recently got the news that an agent, her second leg in her relay, accepted her novel, then the third leg was decided via an auction, and now the marketing and publicity people are paving the way for its publication finish line in 2012.

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 

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