Monday, April 28, 2008

Too Many Writers Spoil the Soup

I recently saw a statistic that over 400 million people worldwide play basketball.

I played it growing up, and I still play now. I'm not bad, but I can't go right and my jumper is shaky at best. I certainly knew at an early age that I could never share the floor with professionals, no matter how hard I tried. I simply didn’t have the talent or the commitment.

Stay with me, there's a point to this.

As you all know, I get a ton of queries each day, and I reject almost all of them. Often times I reject writers who have talent, and I've rejected plenty of writers that have worked long and hard on their craft. But I also get quite a few queries that are utter and complete crap. The writer can't put a sentence together and hasn't bothered to even edit their query, much less their book.

These people are likely part of the 53% of Americans that didn't read a book last year, much less competitive books in the genre they're writing in. They haven't taken a writing class or gotten their MFA. They don't workshop their book with other writers. They don't attend conferences or lectures. They don't even spell check.

I’m not a writer, but it really pisses me off that some people think that anyone can write a good book. Why is writing any different from basketball (and my analogy now makes sense, even though it was clearly silly), or any other skilled profession? What is it about publishing that encourages self-delusion?

My wife suggested that it’s because we all learn as children how to read and write (even if poorly), and that we do it all of our lives and so it becomes second nature (as compared to shooting a fadeaway jumper). Rachel Donadio thinks that self-publishing has a lot to do with it. Others think that good commercial writers are the cause, that people like John Grisham make it look too easy.

Does this piss you off too? If so, who's to blame? Can we fix it?


bschisem said...

Great question. My beloved wife thinks that people think they can write because, as your wife does, a true professional makes it look easy.

Let many people know I'm a journalist, and the first reaction is "You ought to write about me. I've got a great story. Might even make a book."

Ego is wonderful, and as a journalist I've discovered that with a bit of probing most people do have a dramatic event or two in their lives, so they are interesting. But, not enough to sutain a newspaper article, much less a book.

Don't waste your anger on this Jonathan. Just laugh, move on, and help those who you believe could utilize your talents.

And always: Remember the Alamo.

Now that's a good story but I doubt ol' Davy could write.

Scott said...

It's even more annoying when the person is a celebrity and think that because they've made some movies or records that they can write the world's greatest children's book or novel or whatever.

Just because you're a good basketball player, doesn't mean you can be a baseball star.

Heidi said...

Not too long after Grisham published The Firm, a friend told me casually that he totally could have written that book if he'd had the idea first.

I told him he didn't have the idea, and he didn't write it, and so until he did he'd do well to keep his mouth shut.

I never thought Grisham's books looked easy to write, but there have been many books I've read where I've thought, I definitely write better than that!

Maybe the blame lies with all the encouraging English teachers who kept telling me I had a lot of talent and that I should pursue it. I took a lot of writing classes in college and the vast majority of the writers were awful! Even in the graduate level class they were awful. One can get a really bloated head that way.

Then I began looking at statistics. Query statistics. The percentage of people who query vs. the percentage of people an agents contracts with. That was a pitcher of cold water down my back.

But writers are a little like the singers who line up for Idol auditions. They almost all are convinced they have extraordinary talent, and even rejection doesn't convince them otherwise.

I'm not sure you can solve the problem of big egos.

Julia said...

How many times has a doctor said to me, "I've always thought I could write a novel"? (Answer: lots.)

And how many times have I responded, "I've always thought I could remove an appendix"? (Answer: once. So far.)

Natalie said...

Heidi's Idol comment is perfect. Just like there are a million people who think they can sing, there's a million who think they can draw, act, write, dance, etc.

Writing falls into the arts, and with that comes that dreaded word--subjectivity. So-called artists can brush off the criticism and claim that the critic just didn't get it.

There's no way to fix it, there will always be a legion of "artists" working as waiters until they get their big break.

Morgan Dempsey said...

Nobody can kick your tail in writing the way they can kick your tail on the courts. It's easy to see that you're not cut out for the major league when you've got a punk down the street dribbling circles around you. Writing's a touch more abstract than being able to do the six-minute mile.

In my opinion, anyway :)

Jonathan Lyons said...

So should I be like Simon and be a bit more vicious in my responses?

Heidi the Hick said...

I'm actually trying hard to not be pissed off by it, because I don't need that to eat away at me! It's hard though.

We live in a very celebrity obsessed culture; I think that has something to do with it. I'm surprised by how many people, who are not writers, think that because I wrote a book it'll get published and I'll be rich and famous.

I hate it when other people say stupid things like, "You just start typing until it's finished. How hard can it be?" It's not hard at all to just type words. It is very hard to come up with a good idea, something interesting and unique, then write a story with characters that readers will care about enough to keep reading, and then edit it until it not only makes sense but is... GOOD.

Then there's the curse of stubbornness. I am stubborn. I've decided that I'm going to do this and nobody can talk me out of it.

(But please don't go all Simon on me...)

pjd said...

... They haven't taken a writing class or gotten their MFA. They don't workshop their book with other writers. They don't attend conferences or lectures. They don't even spell check.

What amazes me is how these people can get far enough in their research to find you and send you a query, yet during all that research they end up still clueless about their (lack of) ability to write.

I think it is because the incompetent lack the skills to assess their own competency. An interesting paper draws this conclusion.

The Idol example is spot on: We all listen with jaws on the floor wondering how those early rejects can possibly think they can sing. Haven't they ever recorded themselves and played it back, just to see? Well, yes, they probably have. But as we see time and again, telling them they stink only makes them angry... and more determined.

So no, I don't think being harsher is the answer. Maybe along with your form rejection you could include (for the really bad ones) a list of resources they may pursue to improve. Such as a basic grammar text. Or a high school education. Or an ESL class.

Janet said...

One Simon Cowell in the world is enough.

I personally don't think I have extraordinary talent. I rather doubt I will write any great classics. But I think I can write well enough. Of course, I'm old enough to have some ego battered out and a little common sense battered in.

That was like my father lecturing me on linguistics one time. He thought that because he could talk (well) and was an intelligent man that he therefore understood the science of linguistics. Which was like me thinking that because I could cook well that I could discuss chemistry with some intelligence.

I haven't yet encountered the "I could write if I wanted to" but I firmly intend on smiling nicely at the person and saying, "So when are you going to start?" I figure most of them will never even start, and most of those that do will never finish, and they'll be a little less inclined to make stupid sentences. Unfortunately, some of them will be sending those future terrible query letters, but that's - ahem - not my problem. Jonathan can deal with them. (Insert evil grin here.)

Adaora A. said...

What pisses me off is how celebrities can get a book deal with just their name and the title on their query letter (if they even bloody write one). You know half the time they didn't even write the damn book themselves. It will be a best seller (thanks to their name), and they will get 80 million figures for it. They corner every market; singing, dancing, fashion design, acting, and now they are (like rushing bulls), approaching publishing. It pisses me off that I work so hard (editing a one page letter 20 times at least), and editing a book goodness knows how many times (that I've written without any help), and they get deals like the drop of a hat.

I won't name any celebrity names.

It just pisses me off Mr. Lyons.

I also get annoyed when people joke "a book is coming...everyone will want to read it."

Just. Please. Dont.

Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

Anonymous said...

As bad as the ones who "could have" written this or that book are the ones who want to give you "ideas": you should write about ... What can you do but smile vacantly and change the subject? But the fact that celebrities and politicians now routinely "write" books as a way of extending their fame must contribute to many people's belief that writing is something anyone can do.

Jaye Wells said...

I heard a podcast interview with Christopher Moore recently, where he used the basketball analogy for humor. He said you can learn the craft of humor, but unless you were already funny you probably won't be a good comedic writer. He said it's like how he'll never play in the NBA because he doesn't have the innate athletic gifts, but he enjoys the sport.

The problem? Everyone thinks they're funny.

Kate H said...

Of course it annoys me. I think the reasons you stated in the blog are valid, and I also think it has something to do with the way the public schools address writing these days--encouraging "self-expression" at the expense of grammar, spelling, sentence structure, organization of ideas, and everything else that goes into really good writing.
Also, I think the quality of popular literature has gone way down in the last century. When people like Dickens were the popular writers of the day, it must have been a lot more difficult for Joe Bloe to delude himself that he could be that good.

RedDuck said...

You're totally right. I work in education and I get the same thing. Everyone thinks they can teach. After all, anyone with a high school diploma can sign up to be a sub. How can it be, right? I think that's the same with writer's. I don't agree, but I guess I'm used to it, because I've been treated that way for nearly a decade now.

Liz said...

I think your wife is right on the money. No one goes to an Aerosmith concert and thinks, "Oh, I can do that. That's easy. Give me fifteen minutes alone with GarageBand and I'll have a smoking hot single ready for release tomorrow." But almost everyone is convinced he can write a book. How hard can it be?

I've met a lot of "writers" who were more interested in the bragging rights of being published than in the actual "writing" part. They fantasize about fame and fortune and a carefree lifestyle, and since laboring away in obscurity without making a penny for a decade or so contradicts all that, they write it off as an urban legend--something successful authors and agents throw out there to dissuade their potential competition from realizing just how easy the writing biz actually is.

I don't think attending workshops or conferences, or obtaining an MFA, is always a tried and true indicator of how seriously a writer takes his work. Not everyone has the time or money to indulge in those sorts of things, and at the end of the day, I'd much rather read a really good book written by a reclusive high school drop-out than I would a shoddy one written by someone who felt his dues to the publishing world were paid in full once Mystery Writers of America cashed his enrollment check.

Andrew Galasetti said...

I hope my query wasn't one of the crappy ones you received. :P

I would agree with what your wife suggested, people see writing a book as just writing, something they have been doing for their whole life.

Don’t get too pissed off about it though. This exists in many industries. When people see a novel invention they say "why couldn't I think of that?" They never recognize the hard work that goes into creating and marketing an invention. It’s much more than just coming up with an idea.


Jonathan Lyons said...

I agree that an MFA or conferences aren't necessary - I didn't mean to imply it. But they do show dedication to the craft. But then again, this commitment is also shown if you've read other books in the genre you're writing, you have beta readers, you revise and revise, you read agent/editor/writer blogs, etc.

Looking back on my post, I really should have emphasized more just how much dedication it takes to be a writer. You have to write and write, and then you have to deal with getting an agent, and then a publisher, and then the public. I know, you all know this, but it just frustrates me to no end that so many people don't realize just how hard it is to be a published author (and not self-published either).

Blogagaard said...

I think any job is hard. Everything flows toward Decay. It's often so easy to quit, quit anything. Today I quit my day job at an eye clinic maybe twelve times in my head.

What makes writing (sort of) unique is that you bring it all on yourself. You volunteer for the rough terrain. You don't need to write. You can get by on a day job for your entire life. The world does not need to hear your voice, one in a multitude. The world is busy doing its own thing. The world really doesn't care, even when you're a big shot famous writer, as much as you think it does. What you're volunteering for is, basically, a suicide mission. But the sort of person who'd volunteer for a thing like that might smile at the challenge, and find it more than worthwhile.

Post Script: I try to avoid cocktail parties. If at a cocktail party, I tend to lie about what I do. If all else fails, I get so drunk I think everyone is funny and beautiful and then, then we're all writers and poets and super models and there is no sadness.

until the next morning.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I understand the comment about Grisham. The guy was a lawyer before he started writing, correct? Don't lawyers spend all day researching and writing? Sure they're writing legal briefs, but come on, it's still writing. Not like the guy was a high school dropout-druggie-trash collector before he wrote his first bestseller. And, isn't/wasn't Michael Crichton a doctor before he started writing? You do realize just how well-educated doctors are, don't you? And they don't start their fresman year of college learning to take out appendices...some of these folks have very surprising backgrounds before hitting med school.

I think that there are many people who have a talent for writing which needs to be nurtured. They may not even know it for a very long time, and may choose other careers for a variety of reasons (a regular paycheck comes to mind). There are also many people who do nurture their writing skills and don't get published. I'm sure there are many many MFA's out there writing mediocre query letters for mediocre books that no one wants to sell. A very select few will have such surprising talent that they don't need years to perfect it before getting lucky (the guy who sold Eragon at 17 years old comes to mind). If only we could all be so lucky!

As someone without an MFA, or English degree (though I have taken a handful of college writing classes), I resent the idea that I'm somehow not qualified to write. My current "career" is about as non-writing you can get, but it's a steady (and good) paycheck.

Hopefully, when my WIP is finished, if I decide to query you, you won't think my letter is crap. I'll try to remember not to mention my lack of writing credentials, though...

Ulysses said...

Something to think about:

We ought to encourage the writer in everyone for the same reason we ought to encourage pick-up basketball games.

We might only get one decent player in a hundred neighborhood games. Out of a hundred decent players, we might only get one playing college ball. Out of a hundred college players, you might get one NBA caliber player, and you might have to look at a hundred of them before you find a single Jordan. And of course, for every Jordan, you get hundreds of players who think they are.

You've got to have the neighborhood games if you're going to get Jordan.

So we teach everyone to write. Most are going to use their talents for e-mail and grocery lists. A few will tackle a novel. Most will be bad at it. A few will be good. One might be the next Faulkner. Unfortunately, we get a hundred Eye of Aragon or Atlanta Nights a week.

I agree with Mordecai Richler: "some people ought not to be encouraged." The problem is determining who they are, and we haven't found any better way to do that than placing the task in the lap of agents.

I don't envy you the job, but remember the immortal words of my father, who said: "I'd rather be pissed off than pissed on."

Barb Jones said...

Okay - I've read all of the comments and it is clear that you are all either writers, or are in literary professions. I came to this Blog because my husband (a writer) loved the basketball analogy and said that I have to come read it (plus in our household - we love Jonathan). So now I am going to give you all the perspective of someone who can't write - and would likely be the person sending in something that wasn't spell checked. Ready?

People who don't understand how difficult it is see writing as the only way to fame and fortune that doesn't require any capital outlay. We don't understand that it takes talent - because we don't even know what talent in writing means. All it costs you is $15 for a ream of paper, you just sit down with your computer and bang something out - and you get a million bucks...right?


Jonathan Lyons said...

Anon - I think you're missing the point of what everyone is saying, including me. I'd bet that many of the people commenting do have day jobs, just like you. And my comment about Grisham was a compliment (he makes it look easy). However, he worked for years on his fiction writing while concurrently practicing law.

Oh, and as a lawyer, do believe me when I tell you that legal writing and fiction writing don't relate that well to each other (nonfiction is a different story).

My point to all of this in terms of you is the following... When you finish your WIP, please edit it carefully. Please show it to beta readers. Please revise. Please do everything you can to make it perfect. Then submit your query to me.

December/Stacia said...

*nods emphatically*

Filamena said...

In fairness, I know a lot of 'writers' with their MFA who go to conferences and to writers retreats. They blog constantly at the 'struggles of being a writer' and spend a terrifying amount of energy dedicated to thinking about their craft. (Mostly that seems to be a huge amount of time standing in a Borders dogging on genre writers and the like.)

They prove their dedication to their writing by laboring over the same 2,000 words for 2 years.

Could you imagine if there were fewer writers who all wrote like that?

melospiza said...

There is no filter for writers. Other professions and artistic pursuits weed out the wannabes before they get to the professional level; they require credentials, auditions, gallery showings, competency tests. But any beginning writer can send off a query. Unfortunately, you and other agents are the first audition.

franzeska said...

I think it happens so often because we completely devalue writing as a hobby. No one thinks it's odd if you like to go out for karaoke or serenade your unwilling roommates from the shower, but people have a hard time figuring out what to do with their taste for writing. If we actually had a cultural concept of writing for fun that included something other than teen angst poetry, fewer people would try to get published.

Julie Weathers said...

I made a comment on Books and Writers a few years ago about everyone thinks they're a writer and I sometimes wonder if I am one of the delusionals.

A published friend responded, "The difference is you have talent and you're willing to do whatever it takes to hone your skill. You realize it takes a lot of hard work." She went on to say most people submitting think all it takes is a computer and a list of agents, hence the enormous rejection rates.

Talent and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee if you don't want to add the pesistent effort.

I'm always amazed when I go to a rodeo and hear some guy behind me bragging to his girl about how he could ride that bronc or bull better. They don't realize that young man has probably been riding since he was in grade school. Many are gymnasts and some have even taken ballet lessons. They work out, they eat right, they go to rodeo schools, they watch videos of their rides and they stay focused.

It's much harder than just yelling, "Yee haw," and holding on. The good ones, in any profession, just make it look easy.

How much more should we, as writers, put into our craft, which takes much longer than eight seconds?

Anonymous said...

Franzeska is right. Writing is the only art I know of where 99 times out of 100, the first thing out of someone's mouth after you tell them what you do is, "are you published?"

My other vocation is quilting. No one ever asks me if I've sold a quilt. I quilt, therefore I'm a quilter, and I have the quilts to prove it, from my earliest badly-stitched efforts to the more recent works I'm proud of. I write, therefore I'm a writer, and I have the manuscripts to prove it. From my earliest buried-in-the-bottom-of-my-hard-drive efforts to the one I'm shopping around now.

We wouldn't hunt so hard for validation as writers if validation wasn't so hard to come by...

mjcwrites said...

I think it's because we don't value our own language anymore. We have spellcheckers, so we don't need to spell. We have computers, so we don't need to write legibly. E.E. Cummings tossed capitalization and punctuation out in the window in his poetry, and there have been odd published books that were extracted wholly from blog posts with spelling errors and netspeak intact. We don't learn proper grammar in school anymore. We don't study our own language, so we don't appreciate its complexity and history. There are over 400,000 words in the English language and the average American uses 20,000 of them.

It goes back to literacy in the end. We're sending tens of thousands of college graduates into the workforce every year and a frightening number of them are functionally illiterate. If the culture doesn't value you the language, then why is the publishing industry so uptight about it?

Anonymous said...

I don't have an MFA, although I did minor in English (purely because I took so many CW classes that I found I could easily get the minor). I also don't go to conferences (although I am going to my first next month). But I have workshopped with other writers....
I'm sure that your examples were just that, to show what a few "serious" writers do. I just wanted to comment that I do consider myself part of this group and would never send out an unprofessional query. Just because you aren't an MFA, etc., doesn't mean that you aren't serious about your craft.

Jonathan Lyons said...

Am I missing something here? There's no debate - no one said an MFA is required in order to be taken seriously as a writer or be published.

kathie said...

I agree with your wife--there are many, many servicable writers in the world. Likewise, though reading is as psychologically complex as conducting a symphony, there are many reading "experts" in the world. It leads us all to believe writing is a matter of just taking some extra time to get it all down and send it all out. To me, it's a wonderful thing--that you don't necessarily have to be formally educated in "writing" to be successful at it. The rub is that the act itself takes great time and patience and rewriting in order to sound at all like you know what you're doing...

Anonymous said...

Care to continue this conversation?

Anonymous said...

Now you've uncovered the great secret to why NO ONE seems to want to PAY writers for any of their words -- and that mean magazine publishers, too!

Have you ever looked at the advertisements for writers and what they're offered for their work? Peanuts!

It's so bloody frustrating, but there it is. We have to suck it up and deal.

Lorelei said...

People who do not read a great deal cannot tell good writing from bad, or even mediocre. People who do not read widely cannot understand the subtleties of voice and style. They cannot tell what makes extraordinary writing extraordinary. They think if they can read, they can write. Add the fact that writing can be done for no money, and the delusions of adequacy abound.

Anonymous said...

Just a note... Someone commented that doctors are always saying that they would make good writers. I agree.
Heavily sedated people are more generous with secrets and intrigue. Perhaps the best contemporary Egyptian writer, Alaa Al Aswany is a dentist and he says a lot of his ideas come from listening to his patient's secrets... People chatter when they’re scared.

Marla Taviano said...

First time here. Hi. LOVED this post. I'm a published author (I know, three cheers for me!), and I TRY not to let it get to me when people say, "I'd love to write a book, but I don't have the time... (or some other excuse)."

Yeah. Kind of like me saying, "I'd love to be a professional basketball player, but I just don't have the time..."

I certainly didn't work my tail off to get where I'm at or anything. I'm just one of the "lucky" ones with all sorts of free time, right? Anyone could do what I do if they had 30 hours in a day like me.

Wow, I sound bitter too. :)

AstonWest said...

I think the trouble is the subjective nature of the publishing business. If books were accepted based on set guidelines, people who have no chance would realize it. Because there is no such set standard in the approval process, those would-be writers don't see it as anything but the subjectivity. They continue on, thinking that any moment, the planets will align and their work will be accepted for the brilliance it is.

When you suck at basketball, it's obvious. :)

S.G. said...

Though I'm not a published writer yet, my friends from grad studies have begun sending students interested in writing my way - so that I could give them a bit of advice. I talked with a few and they let me read their material. That most of them have read very few books in their lifetime was clear. I proposed that they start out by reading a little Hemingway, maybe some Bellow, not Joyce or anything. After that suggestion, most didn't contact me again. A friend that met one of them asked about this and was told: He wasn't much help, the amount of work he asked us to do was insane...
Eventually, I think there is one way to know whether one should write. It is Rilke's test: "...ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity ..." if it's not a necessity, don't write. If people take this simple test to heart, I think Mr. Lyons will see less queries that are "utter crap"...

Josephine Damian said...

Jonathan: A pre-law professor told me the students who did the best in law school were the English majors - she made the point that the law's all about writing.

Author Jon King said there are more guys who play in the NBA - the pros - than there are writers who make a living from their writing.

Julia: When I told my legendary eye surgeon I was writing a novel, he said: Me too! Not "someday" but actively working on his novel.

Well, at least he has a good day job.

Jon said...

While I largely agree, and like the basketball analogy, I am puzzled by this paragraph -

They haven't taken a writing class or gotten their MFA. They don't workshop their book with other writers. They don't attend conferences or lectures. They don't even spell check.

I've never done any of those things (that last because my inner spell checker is better than Word's) and I'm a full-time novelist.

I can see the value of an MFA, and I suppose workshopping works for some, but come on, going to conferences? You learn how to write by reading, writing, and rewriting, not by listening to lectures.

Jonathan Lyons said...

Jon - Regarding conferences, I'm sure many people share your opinion of them. I'm also just as sure that some authors would disagree and have found conferences extremely valuable. I don't think you can make a blanket statement about the value of conferences, or for that matter MFAs, beta reading, etc. Everyone works differently. As someone who reads queries all day long, the particulars don't matter to me so long as the author has done everything they think they can to make their work as good as possible.

elaine said...

I'm just a writer, not an agent, but I get a lot of emails from would-be writers. One that really struck me was from a young man who had a great idea, but he just needed me to tell him how to put it down on paper.

I wonder if artists get emails from folks who say, "I have a great idea for a painting. There's a rocky cliff on a hill not far from my town, and I think an autumn view with a dragon flying across a sunset sky would look really cool. So. How do I turn this idea into a book cover?"

On second thought, maybe they do. A lot of things look easy until you actually try to do them.

Anonymous said...

If we actually had a cultural concept of writing for fun that included something other than teen angst poetry, fewer people would try to get published.

Like blogging, say? Or writing fanfic?

Blogging is relatively new, and while fanfic isn't, it used to be the domain of the truly hardcore fan - the kind who subscribed to mimeographed newsletters. So it's possible their effect hasn't been felt yet.

My suspicion, though, is that these won't serve as outlets for would-be writers. They'll encourage them to submit even more, because their commenters think they're great. (You'd be horrified at how bad fanfic can be and still have devoted readers.)

Amanda Kelly said...

I wonder if artists get emails from folks who say, "I have a great idea for a painting...How do I turn this idea into a book cover?"

Haa, we certainly do, Elaine :D
Maybe not specifically book covers, but I'm constantly getting notes to my deviantART account with one of two questions preceding said great idea—'How Do I Do' and 'Could You Please Make'.

I like the latter ones when they come with a realistic offer of financial reimbursement.

There are other artists I know who have strange and unusual styles who get more of the former than I do, and other artists I know who are more talented than myself who get more of the latter, but overall I think we've all got A Note Like That at one stage.

I get it from both angles. While I'm not published (yet), the folks who know me as a writer and take seriously how seriously I take it tend to ask a lot of 'How Do I Do' and 'Could You Please Help' in the writing department.

Strangely enough (perhaps), I like getting the writing questions. It tells me that there are at least some people who understand what I believe Jonathan is saying here—that writing is an art, and as an art, everyone might be able to do it, but not everyone can do it well.
Which I absolutely agree with, and have my fingers crossed that I do it well enough :)

Anonymous said...

I can't help but add a post (even though it's six months later).

I've been a writer all my life--a closet writer. I finally attempted to write a novel and completed it within five months. It's a great story that just pulls you right into the action. I read it out loud a lot during family functions and loved when I draw out goose bumps or get people jumping up and down on the sofas.

My grammar sucks so I never tried to get my novel published. I was content to let it sail around my extended family, passed from friend to friend, nothing but a pack of pages contained inside a three-ring binder.

Then an agent read my novel and suggested I work with a freelance editor. The experience was amazing. I learned all kinds of stuff about writing. I memorized this book by grammar girl and finally figured out what split infinitives were.

So, I got published and made a lot of money. Does that mean I'm a hack writer? I don't think so. I think it means I'm a good story teller who has to work hard to follow the rules of grammar.