Respect for Writing

I once read a book called Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen, a brilliant actress and teacher who lived in New York in the middle part of the last century. She had tutored some very famous actors and was highly regarded as one of the truly great stage performers of her day. Her “method” was simple enough … find a reason to do anything the director asks you to. She explained it like this: if the stage direction is to “jump for joy” and you can’t manufacture enough joy to leap convincingly imagine the floor becoming increasingly hot, so hot you must jump up to stop your feet burning. It sounds silly but these are the sorts of devices actors use to give reality to their performances. Emotions are often hard to conjure but simple games of the imagination are quite easy. Uta’s advice helped me “find” reality in my art when I was a burgeoning actress but I wondered what she meant by respect for acting. Surely acting was about becoming a star and being worshiped? The answer came a few years later when some of my classmates at drama school were beginning to make a name for themselves and their attitude was one of profound disrespect for their art and inflated regard for their own talent, which was, in many cases mediocre at best. The years peeled away and eventually I found my true passion, something I could truly respect – writing. But now I am seeing the same lack of respect for the art of writing in many would-be writers. I am encountering people who assume their first draft is fabulous and needs no polishing or assessing. It is very disrespectful.True, we cannot know how many submissions publishers are receiving in any given week. Nor can we compare the quality of our own manuscript to theirs but it is wise to assume some wonderful manuscripts are crossing the desks of publishers and if we wish to compete we need to submit our very best work. I hear much chatter about slush piles and volume and how hopeless it all is but now that I am working closely with a publisher I know how eager they are to find gems. And they do read submissions. It’s a convenient lie to believe your manuscript wasn’t even looked at when it gets rejected. If you get rejected, and we all do, take another look at how you can improve your story. Polish it. Have it assessed. We all work in isolation and it’s easy to assume our work goes out there into the ether or gets dropped down some bottomless black hole but all effort is eventually rewarded and we owe our art the respect it deserves by submitting only our most polished mss and accepting advice when it is offered, especially if it chimes authentically. We can all improve our work. Writing groups can be very helpful for feedback and support and taking courses every so often is a great way of cross-pollinating ideas with other writers. But in the absence of a local writing group or a great teacher an assessor can make a huge difference. It’s all about respect…for ourselves and for our art. And remember the manuscript that never gets published is the one you never submit. Keep writing.


2 thoughts on “Respect for Writing

  1. Pingback: Respect for Writing | Catch The Moon, Mary

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