Friday, April 4, 2014

No Rhyme or Reason

Writers, and I include myself, fumble and perspire to create the best prose possible. We judge ourselves, unmercifully so. And, what is the commercial outcome? We don't know. It's impossible for us to project. And, that's the truth.

This simple truth was no more apparent to me then this week. Attending a book club of which I've been a member for years where the books are member-chosen it's always interesting to see what selections are agreed upon. This month's book, the core of which I had no quarrel, did cause me pause in that the writing switched numerous times from past to present tense. I have no quarrel with either tense (in fact I've written novels utilizing both) but it drove me to distraction when reading to have to switch from one to the other, back again, and then to switch again.

Yet, while fellow book clubbers had no difficulty appreciating my concern, they were willing to overlook it. As one member said, this was a first time author. What a break. I stayed silent, but thought where was the book editor.

This past week I found a copy of a book on editing by Sol Stein. Admittedly it was an old book. However, editing principles don't change that quickly, if ever. He took to task The Firm, an early novel by John Grisham that achieved remarkable sales. And, one of many movies made from Mr. Grisham's writing endeavors. The point by Editor Stein was that commercial fiction could be successful even if it didn't meet what could be considered "literary" standards of writing quality. One can not begrudge the success of Mr. Grisham, in fact, it should be idolized for, notwithstanding critical judgments, he's made the book buyers of the world ring his cash register. We should all be so fortunate.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that editors, even hardnosed ones, are unnecessary and that any writer will be successful no matter what they write. Do I hear an "alleluia?"

There are many factors to successful writing. Clear prose should be one of them. It's like a well-built automobile: if nothing goes wrong and gets us economically to the intended destination, we don't give it much thought. If the onboard computer malfunctions and leaves us at the side of the road the screams of "why me" can be heard across numerous counties. In writing, concrete prose correctly presented doesn't receive encores. It's taken for granted. Or, is it?

Let's say it ups a writer's chance to obtain reader approval. Reader approval will make for greater sales of the current book and, hopefully, others that follow.

As a native of Ireland, I'm mindful of the Irish author who came to New York, wrote four novels, and achieved no commercial success. After his death, his novels were "discovered" and made his heirs or the publisher a pretty penny. Was he a failure as he thought? Apparently not depending on when the judgment is made. So, does this true to life story inspire? We can hope so, not that I wish any writer to die.

There is no rule that says violation of what is considered to be preferred writing style will condemn that writer to failure or poverty. However, there are many other writers who gain both monetary and public acclaim by being exceptional writers, not by talent alone, but by hard word in learning the craft of writing, nurturing their own instincts, and abiding by the skills gleamed from others. There is no official survey, but I would speculate that those writers who have acquired and polished the skills espoused by well-known and esteemed editors have prospered by all yardsticks of success.

Yes, there will always be exceptions. Isn't it better to shoot for the majority road to success?

If you answer, the truth will be known to you and you need not share, but keep on writing.

Author Donan Berg has published five novels, the latest is Adolph's Gold. It's available at major online book retailers in e-book format and in paperback (374 pages) at . He also is available for flat-fee manuscript critiques and line editing through . Click on the marketplace link for more information. He offers a no obligation consultation. What have you to lose?

Also, he's scheduled to be on blogradio April 14, 2014, at from New York City. Listen in or join the conversation with a call in.

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