The following is often attributed to Yogi Berra, but probably first said by Jan van de Snepscheut:
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”
Truer words were never spoken.
When I was a youngster, an otherwise-intelligent adult told me that when running you should breathe through your nose, as this accomplished two things: the small hairs would filter out dirt/bugs/whatever, and the nasal passages—with their proximity to blood vessels—would warm the air on its way to your lungs. As a scientifically-minded kid this all made sense to me, and it wasn’t until much later when I began to run in earnest that I realized that while all of the above may theoretically be true… in reality it turns out to be complete bullshit. Because in reality, when running, the #1 goal of your respiratory system is to supply enough oxygen to fuel the activity. Period. And running with your mouth closed is in direct opposition to this overarching goal.
Had the adult been a runner, none of this would have come about. But instead he was a scientific guy who read a lot—about a lot of things—and therefore had theoretical knowledge about any number of subjects. Which is not the same thing.
Theory is great. Necessary, even. But ultimately it’s nothing but a tool on the road to reality.
In our writing life—especially as aspiring writers—we’ll hear tons of well-meaning advice on how to approach things. Much of it from people who are coming to it from a theoretical perspective rather than a practical one. Or perhaps from a scholarly one. And some of it may be from people who perhaps aren’t where we desire to be, publishing-wise. And—maybe not so well-meaning—occasionally from people who may be more interested in separating us from our money than in actually helping us get where we want to go, publishing-wise.
To this latter point, I recently saw an online ad with the following phrases…
* * *
WRITERS: Want to UPGRADE to AUTHOR?
…I know you're tired of watching your friends publish.
…be the one holding the sharpie at the book signing, asking how to spell names.
…you ARE good enough and you can get the unfair advantage: the INSIDE SCOOP.
…I sit down with top publishing pros every week… to get YOU not only the best tips, but CURRENT tips.
Want to know what's trending in publishing NOW?
What the hottest agents are seeking TODAY?
Step-by-step guides on how best-selling authors made it to the top?
* * *
I honestly can’t imagine worse writing advice. The above implies the writing itself doesn’t matter and it’s simply about knowing what those editors and agents are looking for RIGHT NOW. And if you could only turn in a manuscript with the right subject matter—the CURRENT, HOT subject matter, TRENDING NOW—then you’d be the one all your friends were jealous of instead of the other way around, and you’d be holding the sharpie of doom at the signing instead of standing in line, pissing your pants with envy.
Regardless of the actual quality of said manuscript.
(And also: Wow, way to try and capitalize on people’s self-doubt, jealousy and FOMO.)
In reality, every writing success story I know of is unique, with unique twists and turns along the way to the finish line.
So in reality, trying to copy someone else’s specific path is an exercise in futility.
In reality, the only commonality between publishing pathways I’ve noticed is persistence, a willingness to work hard, and a desire to continually improve one’s craft.
And in reality—let’s be honest here—there can also be an element of luck involved. Yes, we can influence the odds by applying the above traits (“the harder you work, the luckier you get”) but to ignore the element of randomness is like going to Vegas and betting the farm because you “really deserve to win.” Being deserving doesn’t always have a lot to do with when the ball drops.
But also in reality—mitigating the above—it’s also true that “it only takes one YES to wipe out all the NOs.”
Because in reality, you don’t need to convince every “Big Time Editor” or “Hot Agent in New York City” that your work is worthy.
Only one. And that’s enough.
Or maybe none, for the intrepid indies among us.
Because in reality, what matters are the words that end up on the page. The words you chose… the words you wrote… the words you rearranged and rewrote and revised and polished, until they said what you wanted to say, in the way you wanted to say it, to the very best of your ability.
And that’s no theory.
This is where I write about things that are of interest to me and which I think may be of interest to you. I’m assuming most of you are here due to an interest in reading, writing, editing, publishing, etc., so that’s the primary focus.