By Leslie Lindsay
We’re back again today with another installment of the Agent-Getting Toolkit…and THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Betsey Lerner.
Betsey is a former editor-turned-agent. She knows her stuff when it comes to the written word. The first half of her book devotes entire chapters to each of these “types of writers.” I’ll attempt to share then to you in a very short paragraph or line. And I highly recommend the book. While at times a tiny bit dated (snail mail queries were once the norm–gasp! Cell phones, not nearly as compulsive as today; Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist….) but there’s some really great content in those pages that will no doubt have you nodding your head.
Curious as to what those types of writers are–and most importantly–which category do you fall into?
Types of writers:
1) Ambivalent Writer. This is the person who will wistfully look into the distance as if a giant book looms on the horizon and say, “someday.” She may have scraps of paper with ideas or lines she’ll use “someday.” [Quick caveat: less-ambivalent writers have those same scraps of paper all over the place. But they use them.]
2) The Natural. This is what Lerner calls “the real thing,” a God-given talent. It’s a rare find, a diamond in the rough. But just because you’ve “got it” doesn’t mean you’re destined to become “the best.” or even an author. [My note: I think these qualifiers are in this description because not all talented writers have the drive, desire, push, magic…to do what we must do day in a day out: butt-in-chair. An author is different, too in that she must make a career of the art–that is–years, books, and publicity]
3) The Wicked Child. Wants to be good in her way of presenting the horrific facts of her family or other situation; her work is generally well-written, but makes no impression. Often this person is eager to write a memoir, but she does so in in such a flowerly way that no one really cares. To be good at this type of writing, Lerner indicates, “reveal the bad things in a good, but bad/gritty way.”
4) The Self-promoter. He desires attention. He wants people to know just how stinkin’ good he is, what he’s learned, what he’s put up with. This person has some kind of knowledge or expertise he must impart with the world. This type of writer may be working on a memoir or a self-help book, or maybe a celebrity who has been captured by flying baby vampires. [My thought here: a one-hit wonder, never to go back to the computer because *that* was so back-breakingly excruciating.”]
5) The neurotic. This writer has particular phobic behaviors, neurotic tics, obsessesions about the writing process. He may have to do things a certain way every time he sits down to write. Yellow paper, a fine tip pen, only a chai tea or dark roast, and maybe only in the car. You get the idea. [Leslie’s note: This writer may have particular issues unseen to the typical person walking by and my appear eager and serious, in in fact, some of these neuroses are all a stalling tactic.]
6) Touching Fire. You know the kind…they are crazy, alcoholic, drug addicted, or hooked on some other vice. This chapter name was taken from Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire about bipolar. [this doesn’t infer that every writer is a sociopath or somehow suffering from an mental illness; however there are many a great writer who *has* had “a touch with fire.”]
From The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers (2000). Betsy Lerner. Riverhead Books. [image source: Amazon.com 10.23.13]