Thursday, October 15, 2009

Everyone Can't Do It

Had a conversation come up elsewhere about responses from editors when they reject stories with form letter responses. As someone who works both sides of the aisle, I understand there are times when it's simply not worth the effort to try and get an author to resubmit something. In the nonfiction field where I worked, this was less often the case, as we would send things back with requests for rewrites. But there were times when the author just didn't get it, and we ended up having to write it ourselves or give it to someone else. In fiction, of course, you don't get to have someone else write your story, so when editors reject it that's pretty much the end for that piece with that publisher, and you move on to the next one.

Some people, though, don't seem to get the message when editor after editor, critique after critique, their work keeps being rejected or torn apart. They keep writing in spite of all evidence to the contrary that they should quit. And while yes, this is the hallmark of all writers, and that the pattern holds for everyone, and that you have to be persistent... I have read things that have prompted me to think some people should just know when to stop.

I realize this is practically heresy among online writing communities (one of which I happen to belong to) but there are people who just flat out should not write.

At least not for anything more than an audience of one.

It's the one thing where I think writing, as an artistic venue, seems to differ from all the others. Most of us know we can't make it as an artist, or a singer, or multiple other disciplines. We know it, we recognize it, and generally don't argue it. Yet writing seems to be the one field where everyone is convinced they can do it. I don't know if that's because, unlike in the visual arts where you can see that you can't draw, or hear that you can't sing, somehow when it's words on paper you don't ever seem to grasp it quite as clearly that no, you weren't meant for this.

I'm all for encouraging people who have talent, and recognize that sometimes that talent takes one heck of a lot of polishing and practice to get to something good, but there are people for whom that kernel of talent just isn't there, and as an editor - and sometimes as a reader - you just want to put them out of their misery.

Though as a single editor you just can't do that, in part because of that idea that everyone can write again. It takes multiple rejections before someone gets the idea that they can't, in fact, write. If ever. So unless you're the tenth editor to reject them, you don't get to be the one that spares the next poor unfortunate sole the wanna-be author will inflict their masterpiece upon.

Is this subjective? Of course it is. Lots of people adore James Patterson, and I wasn't impressed. Lots of people hate some of the authors I happen to like (Jonathan Kellerman comes to mind). So while I might read something and think the author needs to have their pencils, pens, or keyboards taken away, someone else might disagree. It doesn't change the fact that some people just don't have what it takes, and never will.

All I can do is hope that they get that message before they send their stuff my way.


ksclay said...

You're wrong in claiming that the attitude is confined to writing and doesn't exist in other areas. American Idol proves some people can't tell when they can't sing. Some of the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance proves the same thing about dancing. It's well known there are a lot more wannabe actors in Hollywood than people who can really act. The fact is that many people seem to have no ability to judge their own abilities, and refuse to accept the truth from others as well.

slcboston said...

Yeah, but at least on Idol they get publicly humiliated and not encouraged. Granted, it doesn't seem to deter some of them much...

Maybe a baseball bat? :D