A writing friend and I went to hear an agent talk about elements of a manuscript that will cause an agent to turn down a novel for representation. These days so many people are submitting queries and manuscripts to agents that it’s a good idea to know what elements are cause for disqualification at the get-go.
One item on the list was having too many points of view in the story. The agent advised restricting the story to one or at most two, and spoke strongly against trying to present five or six POVs in a story. Now, we can all name successful books that break this rule. Perhaps the rules have changed in today’s publishing climate and those authors were already established with a reader base before agents and editors (and readers) became sensitive to this issue, or maybe those stories are so scintillating that the authors could afford to break accepted rules with abandon. Whatever the case, novelists today who want their manuscripts accepted will find an easier road by playing by this POV rule.
My tendency – a characteristic of my everyday spirituality – is to look for the blessing in what might otherwise seem a difficulty. The blessing I see with restricting my novels to one or two POV characters is that it gives me license to go deeper into the character, to mine their perspectives and personalities for the richness that would otherwise be glossed over if I were trying to tell the story from several different points of view.
Thus today I get to commence the adventure of reducing my 100,000-word novel, told in five points of view, to a richer, shorter one focused on just two people, the two who I already know bring the most to the story. This is a good thing!
Woody Allen is given credit for the statement: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The truth of this observation resonates with many people, pursuing many different pathways to hoped-for success, and writing is one endeavor in which it seems most apt.
When you make your living as a writer (or want to) and then you don’t regularly show up at your keyboard, or your writing tablet, or however you do it, the words don’t go down on the page. That seems pretty obvious. Something that is running around in your head isn’t being put down in words that others can read.
But there is something more to it that is even more important. If you don’t show up, you aren’t there for the inspiration to strike you, you aren’t there for the Holy Spirit to write through you, you aren’t there to create the message or the story or the essay or the poem or the book that you didn’t even know was in you waiting to be written, and those creations are always more stunning, more magnificent than the ones you formulated all by yourself. And part of the tragedy is that no one will miss it, because no one else knew it was in you either.
Whenever your time of day or night is that you write – that time when above all else, you are a writer – make sure you show up!
The “about Jean” section of this website makes reference to two points in my writing history: I made my living as a freelance writer for business clients for about fifteen years, and for the last four of them, I wrote and published a spiritual newsletter. In those years, I learned a valuable, practical lesson: always spend time in prayer before putting my hands on the keyboard and attempting to put words on the page. It sounds like a simple point, but it makes all the difference in the world.
The reason this is a powerful practice is the infinite world of Spirit that we can access if we wish to. This spiritual “place” has the right themes, the right words, and the guidance and peace we need in order to settle into the job we are undertaking. It will even accommodate deadlines! You can go it alone and not avail yourself of this priceless assistance, but doing so, more often than not, leads to frustration, stress, and even the dreaded “writer’s block.”
The more you nurture your spirituality through everyday practices such as meditation and prayer, the surer your confidence in this spiritual collaboration.
Not all writing groups are created equal, so if you go looking for one, here are four pointers from my most recent stint in one, which has continued some seven years and I hope will continue for a long time to come. I would encourage you to look for a group that:
1. Stays true to the core theme. If the group’s focus is spiritually based writing, for example, then any prospective new members must have the same focus for work that will be brought before the group.
2. Is clear about the intent of any feedback regarding an individual’s work. Successful writing groups are noteworthy for how they encourage writing, first and foremost. Groups that focus on finding and exposing every flaw in the writer’s work will not only trample over the writer’s spirit but surely find themselves eventually disbanding.
3. Accepts only new members who are deeply interested in writing, regardless of the particular form the writing takes. “Deeply interested” means that even though the member is probably not earning his livelihood from his writing, he views his work as much more than just another hobby.
4. Honors each member’s material and schedule. This point ranges from remembering to honor confidentiality to ensuring that reviewers have adequate time to review material before a meeting.
More pointers could be given here, but if you find a writers group that meets these four, you probably have found a good one in which it will be safe to let your writer’s spirit soar.