Another Take on WWO – Part Three


It’s me again!

Some time ago I wrote to Barbara Poelle whose “Funny You Should Ask” column appears each month in “Writer’s Digest.” Here is my query and her reply that appeared in the October 2014 issue:

Dear FYSA, 

“When I look around writing conferences, I see lots of gray hair. Are there really agents and editors who will take a chance on older writers like me with a first novel? When they talk about ‘building your brand’ and ‘a body of work,’ dare I hope that includes older writers with talent?  Yours, In the Golden Years”

Dear Golden,

“Isn’t it odd to think there would be any real reason for your concern? But there is undoubtedly some unnamed, unsourced pressure to publish young. I’ll tell you, though, it ain’t coming from me. Like so many of my agenting colleagues, I recognize that there is no age that can be applied to the ripening of a story that is ready to be told. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 85; if the story is intriguing and the writing is captivating, it’s time to take a chance on the author. ‘Brand building’ and a long-term career are considerations that your publishing team will tackle once we are at that point. Just write a fabulous book, and no one will count the candles on your cake.”

What I’m wondering is this

Given this most encouraging reply, why did Barbara Rogan’s remarks (quoted in Part One) bother me so much? I don’t mean to be picky, but the off-hand remark about “the work sexier than the author” pushed my ageist button? And, I didn’t feel better by the end of the post even though she offered up encouragement.

And, why Barbara Poelle’s reply didn’t win hands down and give me the support I need these days?

Partly it’s because Barbara Rogan’s blunt analysis of WWO is true. And partly it’s because I thought my novel was “ready” and recently queried five agents: 2 “no thanks” and 3 no reply. My clock is ticking and too soon  there will be another candle on my cake.

What I like the most about being this certain age

I’ve pushed these two views of WWO–hopeless vs. hope–around until today I found the answer that was there all along. Maybe it’s one that will work for you.

Never mind the wiser, more experience, time to finally write afghan of comfort Ms. Rogan provided. I like how she ended on a hopeful note, but I think this is talking to the choir (given the comments I saw on her post). What I like the most about my older self these days, and think it’s worth bragging about, is that I can embrace two competing ideas and even more challenging—emotions—at the same time.

Last night I learned a dear friend had died. Thinking about Leon’s life and who he was brought me to tears both for his passing and for how hard it is to love and lose a friend. Life gives and takes away, and our job, when we choose to let our deepest feelings in, is to gratefully receive them and put them to use—especially in our writing.

One more honest helping of reality, please

I think that for serious writers, especially WWO’s who don’t have all the time in the world, saying that we are writing for the love of it and don’t care if we’re ever published is crap. I’ve said it before, to myself and to writer friends who were struggling. I didn’t believe it then and don’t now. I just needed to pull on that comforting afghan awhile so that I (or we) could keep going.

I do want you to someday buy my novel Breathing Room, to like it enough to give me a good review on Amazon or Goodreads, and engage in whatever writer/reader mechanism is in vogue at the time. And for me, I want to look over and see the damn book on my shelf next to my memoir Getting to Home. I want some agent bugging me for when my next novel is ready for her to take a look. I want someone to read what I write in whatever form it appears—blog, personal essays, or a novel. I don’t want my kids to open a file drawer full of my unpublished work and have to make that decision—save it because “it’s Mom’s” or recycle?

Enough said about all of this—no Part Four. Now, I’m going to get back to what I was doing–revising another chapter of Breathing Room, and hope you’ll get back to your own work-in-progress. Here are some words to write by if you need more than mine:

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

~ Gustave Flaubert

And my personal fave:

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

~ Richard Bach

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