I spent yesterday stressed out. The cause of the stress was a book blurb-- the brief synopsis that appears on the book's back cover or inside flap or Amazon product page.
200 words, give or take.
The thing kicked my ass.
I'd started it the day before yesterday. Completed a draft, and it looked OK to me. Then I posted it on Facebook for both fellow authors and laypeople to see, for the purpose of inviting feedback, and I got it. Critical, even blunt, but honest and respectful. So I devoted yesterday to revising the blurb.
Problem was, I didn't know how to make it better. I knew my rhetorical purpose (or, at least, I thought I did). Knew I had to make Friends of Mine enticing not as a memoir, but as a story. Knew I had to make it enticing for non-Duranies. Knew I had to sell it. But for whatever reason, I couldn't figure out how to put the words together in order to achieve that. I looked at blurbs of similar memoirs. Didn't seem to help.
"A book blurb is ending my writing career," I posted on Facebook. "Piece of shit."
The frustration nearly drove me to tears. My fellow authors offered me encouragement and commiserated with me. Even continued to make suggestions for improvement.
I knew what I wanted to say. But the words still wouldn't come out right.
Finally, I gave it to my twin brother. A former bookstore employee and stockroom manager (I gave Sunny his job in Adulation), he'd seen a lot of blurbs. He sent me back a revised version, and it was better. I tweaked it some more, and came up with something I liked. My Facebook friends agreed with their "Like"s. Some offered suggestions for even further improvement. I took it all in, and finally put it away, vowing to revisit it with fresh eyes. I have yet to do so.
Needing to de-stress, I went to the beach at the end of the day. Just sat and stared at the water, listening to the rhythm of the waves. I began to think about my students, and how frustrated some of them would get. And I realized that I'd been in their shoes all day. As a teacher, it's easy to appreciate that writing doesn't come as easily for them as it does for us, and it's easy for us to say, "Sometimes it's hard for us too." But when we've got 60 papers to read and respond to in a timely manner, when we've got lessons to plan and prep, meetings to attend, and a life to manage, we become separated from our empathy. That's not to say we don't care. We just forget what it feels like for them.
I've always disdained grades, and I constantly pleaded with my students to write for more than just the grade. "The goal isn't to get an A," I would say. "The goal is to write the best paper you can, and to achieve your rhetorical purpose." That sounds nice and academic. But last night I realized I was trying to write an "A"-blurb. And I was upset because I knew I was falling short, and I couldn't fix it despite having the tools to do so. How many times have I assumed my students didn't understand the assignment, didn't understand what revision was all about, or didn't care, when really they were just downright frustrated because they knew they had something to say, understood why and to whom they were saying it, and cared very much, but just couldn't put the words together? For how many did "getting an A" mean "getting it right," getting it the best it can be? And how many felt that getting it to less than an A-level meant not only that the writing wasn't good enough, but that they weren't good enough?
I haven't been in a classroom (other than in a guest capacity) for over a year. But today I wish I was. I'd be in a better position to help them, simply because for the last two days, I was one of them.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.