Need the advice of a master? Have you tried asking?
You wouldn’t listen to a record by Bob Dylan and then drop him a note, tell him what a fine record it is, and that you, too, write songs and are wondering if he has any advice for a struggling musician.
It’s preposterous, of course. But you can write to writers. There’s even a fair chance—and what more can you ask than a fair chance?—they’ll read your notes and write back. They’ll look over your scars and show you theirs, and in that way spur you on like no one else could.
Guest column by David Wesley Williams, author of the novel
LONG GONE DADDIES (John F. Blair, March 5, 2013), the story of
three generations of musicians and the guitar they hand down like
a curse. His fiction has been published by Harper Perennial’s Fifty-Two
Stories, The Pinch, The Common, and Night Train. He blogs about
music and writing at The Soundcheck & the Fury and tweets fiction on
Twitter. He is, by day, sports editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
I live in Memphis and love Southern literature, and so a few years ago I wrote Larry Brown down in Oxford, Mississippi. I must have been reading one of his novels at the time—Fay, I think. I told him what a fine book it was and asked what advice he might have for an unpublished writer. I knew what he’d say, because there are only two things to say to an unpublished writer—keep writing or quit. And published writers never seem to prescribe the latter. Quitting is too easy. Quitting doesn’t scar.
He wrote back, of course. That’s what writers do. “I’m rushed for time so I’ll be brief,” his typewritten note began, and then ran for just shy of two single-spaced pages. “I do get a lot of letters like yours and can’t possibly answer all of them, but I read your paper [The Commercial Appeal] every Sunday, so there you go.”
(Read an interview with literary agent Kimberley Cameron, who is accepting new clients.)
He wrote about what he called “an apprenticeship period,” and how his lasted eight years. He wrote about things he’d written and deemed unworthy—something like five novels and eighty short stories. “I burned one of the novels because I thought it would be strengthening for me. And it probably was. I know it was because I couldn’t tell you one line out of that novel now. It wasn’t any good.”
Six paragraphs in, Larry Brown made note of how he had meant to be brief, “and here I’ve run on.” He had to catch a plane the next day to New York for a pre-premiere party for the movie made from his Big Bad Love. He wrote about Arliss Howard and Debra Winger, who made the movie: “They’ve been to my house and I’m fixing to go to theirs.” He seemed amazed at his good fortune but rooted as ever in his place in the world and his struggle and the struggles yet ahead. I guessed that by the time Larry Brown left New York for home, his head wouldn’t have been turned even a little bit, but the big city would have some mud crusting its fancy shoes.
He said he still got stuff rejected. He said his favorite parts of novels were sometimes cut “because my editor shows me where it’s not needed. And sometimes we argue. But it’s a process.”
Finally, he said had to run. “All you can do if you believe in your stuff is send it out until you exhaust every possibility. A friend of mine had his book rejected fifty times before it was taken. So think about that.” He wished me luck. “All best,” he wrote, and signed his name.
Then, having given me all that time he didn’t have to spare, he got an envelope and wrote my name and address on it in letters nearly an inch high. Couple of days later, it made it up to Memphis from down in Oxford. I read the letter several times that day and probably several more the next, and then I filed it away. I pull it out from time to time. I always pull it out around Thanksgiving, because that’s the time of year Larry Brown died, of a heart attack, less than three years after giving me—a total stranger—the hope and the nudge I needed.
If you’re interested in a variety of my resources on your
journey to securing an agent, don’t forget to check
out my personal Instructor of the Month Kit, created by
Writer’s Digest Books. It’s got books & webinars packaged
together at a 73% discount. Available while supplies last.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Interact With Agents on Facebook and Twitter.
- How to Create a Simple Writer Blog.
- Do You Need More Than 1 Literary Agent?
- How to Back Up Your Blog and Save Content.
- So You Have a Blog — Now What?
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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