Monday, February 11, 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing--Wrath

The Seven Deadly Sins, and I chose Wrath. Why? Because I am almost always angry. It’s just the way I’m wired. Most people don’t see that, to be honest. Very few people have ever seen me lose my temper (a few like to think they have, but, really, they’ve only seen me moderately annoyed).

I have to agree with what has already been said and very eloquently, by Jeffe. She was speaking about Pride, but I think the same is true about Wrath. A little isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much and you wind up in a bad situation.

Let me put it a different way: you have a little anger in your system and a lot of people will call that drive or ambition. One of the reasons I’m a writer today is because I got deeply, profoundly tired of people telling me how I had to live my life. Not even on major things, but on matters of my personal appearance.   I have worked in retail, restaurants and customer service for quite a bit of my adult life and I had more than one person tell me I had to have my hair cut short. I could accept that to a very real degree until I ran across a manager who said my hair had to be short despite the fact that I had to wear a hat that completely covered my hair.

Kind of pissed me off.

So I decided to do something about it. Namely, I decided to get the sort of job where I could decide for myself. Listen, I don’t have outrageous hair. Even at a length that is longer than standard, I still pull it back and confine it when I’m working. It’s cleaned, brushed and tamed down to manageable.  When I was ten and my mother decided my hair had to be short I had to take it. When I was fifteen, same answer. I’m a big boy now. I can make my own decisions. So I did. And every time I got another rejection letter and thought about quitting, I remembered that manager and I remembered my anger and it gave me enough fuel to move past the rejections and keep on writing.

In short, I used my anger as a tool. And I think that’s a fine thing. Just like I think a little pride is a good thing and will also allow you to move past the inevitable rejection letter.

But let’s talk about anger in the extreme, shall we? Let’s discuss anger when it boils over into wrath. It doesn’t sound like something that should be an issue in publishing, but if you honestly believe that, I have to firmly disagree. It’s okay, we’re allowed to disagree. See? No rocks, no stones, no angry letters.

But I’ve seen enough of them.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A writer spends months on tweaking a short story or novel proposal, getting it just so, until they are convinced that it is perfect. They build up the nerve and they submit their prize to an editor or two, convinced that they have done all they can, pinning their hopes, their dreams, their entire career on that one tale.

And it gets shot down. Editor Number One thought it was trite. Editor Number Two thought it was unoriginal. Editor Number Three never responded at all. Editor Number Four says it’s “Not Right For This Publishing House.”

And that, friends and neighbors, is exactly the wrong thing to say. Said writer, who under most circumstances is relatively well-balanced, decides that enough is too much and SOMEBODY is going to get put in their place. And the angry letter writing commences. Editor Number One came a while ago. Editor Number Two was a long shot. Editor Number Three may still come along and save the day (Not likely, it’s been six months and the deadline was four months earlier) but Editor Number Four just won the lottery.

Editor Number Four gets an angry letter in response, explaining that apparently said editor is clueless, could not possibly understand the depth of emotion and power that went into the story and is obviously too narrow-minded to comprehend the sophisticated narrative. Perhaps Editor Number Four would like to consider a new career as a proctologist, because then said “editor” could figure out where he/she shoved his/her head.

Oh, come on, most of you have at least THOUGHT about writing a letter like that. Hopefully none of you have actually done it. Though, to be fair, there’s always that possibility.

Unfortunately, I know of several authors who actually wrote one variation or another of that letter. Frustration or a bad day, or a dozen different possibilities made them write to an editor who was taking too long (or an agent in a few cases) and rather than writing a polite inquiry or explaining that they were obligated to move to another market, they took it personally and threw insults. And when I say I’ve seen it before, I mean no less than a dozen times over the years. Listen, short of plagiarism, there’s probably not much that will tick of an editor faster than having someone tell them they’re useless at their jobs and should consider a career as a fast food fry cook (or any varation on the theme,.. You get the idea.) Some of the derogatory terms were better phrased, but the one thing they all had in common was simply this: They told the editor in question to F—off in no uncertain terms. Know what the problem with that is? Sometimes editors move on to new locations, where they have larger markets they have control over. Know what else is a serious problem? Lots of times editors talk to each other and compare notes.

I had a situation once at a convention where another male writer decided that the best way to win the attention of several female editors was to cop a feel from each of them as he tried his best to convince them to buy his novel. To be fair, he was rather drunk at the time. That’s a different sin altogether, but I’m betting his wife, who was there with him, had a few words on the subject of Wrath that she shared with him. How do I know about the gentleman in question? Because several of the female editors were talking about him the next day and commending me on not following in his footsteps. True story. I wouldn’t lie about that one.

My point here being that first, writing angry letters to editors is foolish and second, editors often compare notes. How do I know about the angry letters? Because I’ve had more than one editor tell me about the angry letters. Normally while explaining that the letter writer in question has just been guaranteed a permanent visit to File Thirteen should they bother to submit again. Maybe it’s true that editors don’t always remember the rejections they’ve sent out, but I’m willing to safely bet that most of them remember the angry responses to those letters.

In the end it’s a matter of extremes. I genuinely believe that any emotion is a good thing when handled with the proper moderation. Lust? You bet. I’m a lusty soul. That doesn’t mean I’m throwing myself at every woman I meet. Greed? Sure. A little greed keeps me from relaxing too much when things are going the right way and I can always find other things I want. Envy? You bet. I love a good sense of competition. Pride? Jeffe already covered the good aspects of that very nicely. Okay, Sloth and Gluttony are not really very useful to me. I suffer from both from time to time, but they fall short of having much about them that I admire. But you get the idea here.

If you look at anger as a fire then it’s easy enough to use as an analogy and because I like things easy, I’ll go that route. A  small fire is a wonderful thing. It offers warmth, allows us to cook food, etc. A little larger and you can use that heat to melt down metals for forging into the proper tools of your trade. Too much and you risk burning down your house and your career. I would rather keep the house warm than incinerate everything.

How about you?


  1. Great post, James. I'm nowhere near as angry as I used to be. Irritated? Annoyed? Frustrated? Sure, but the older I get the less 'actual anger' crops up. I'm more likely to just let it go now. Maybe instead of letting it go, I should use it to light a fire under my buns.

  2. Totally agree, James - anger can be the fire that gets me up off my ass to make changes. But we only have to observe one author meltdown to see the bad side of that coin...

    And whoa, really? That guy thought copping a feel was the way to get professional attention from an editor??? Just wow.

  3. Ha ha James - would it be wrong to say that I thought of the Hulk when I read this? I'll bet you know just what scene from the Avengers that I'm talking about -->


    Anyway, I suspect I also harvest a great deal of anger as well (and possibly for some of the same reasons as you) - it's just that I've been conditioned to internalize it. It's not particularly healthy, which I realize - and I'm doing my best to try to work through a lot of it as I can.

    On the other hand, lashing out and burning bridges is rarely a good move. As you said - this industry is fairly small and incestuous in some ways. Unless you're a superstar in author terms, you can risk quite a bit by ranting.

    And copping a feel? Drunk or not, perfect example of privileged patriarchy right there. (Maybe I should save that for my post on Lust on Thursday, tho. >_<)

  4. I like the small fires and even the medium ones too. Oy, the big ones though ... like the infernos created by authors who get into flame wars in social media spaces. ~winces~

  5. KAK: Flame wars are always amusing to me. It's not eery day that somebody willfully uses their career as an example of what not to do, but it does happen with decent regularity and reminds me that there's an edit button for a reason.

    Allison: I cheered when I saw that scene. it was nice to know that someone in Hollywood understood me that well. :) And I'm not alone on that one.

    Jeffe: Again, in h is defense, he was deeply and profoundly intoxicated, so, you know, his reasoning skills maybe weren't their best. To my knowledge, by the way, he still hasn't managed to get published. That just might be because he can't write. I don't know as I have never read him.

    B.E. I prefer to stay at a nice low simmer myself, but a few fans of the flame and I'm driven to write some delightfully bloody scenes. ;)