R.L. SAUNDERS

writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

Skip college and move directly into your parents’ basement. It’s cheaper

I don’t really think everybody should skip college. I’m just being squirrely. For real though, should we broaden our concept of what a successful adult is, and really mean it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this while working on my MS and trying to get into my characters’ heads (including the adults). It’s a coming-of-age story, of sorts. The protagonist is the kind of 14-year-old guy I’d like kids to look up to for lots of reasons. He’s flawed, for sure, but he’s got a good heart. And he already knows he has no real intention of going to college.

WRITER ME doesn’t care about the college thing and actually feels like I’m doing something positive. But WANTS-TO-SELL-A-BOOK ME worries parents, teachers, librarians, and therefore editors in a position to acquire the story, might discriminate against my guy on some level. It seems like a stupid concern, but commercial book land is a tricky place to navigate for everybody involved.

Because isn’t it sometimes true that, while we want our kids to practice tolerance and grow up to be progressive, non-judgemental adults, we hope they’ll do that from the security of what we’ve decided success will look like for them?

Parents are acting out of love, most of the time. Of course we are. Our insanity about college stems, in part, from a desire to protect our children from the disappointment of an adulthood during which they’ll struggle financially. And we also want them to feel good about themselves. We want them to be able to say I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.

But is it a different world now? I mean, sure, they can’t even check their own oil (let alone change it) or install a storage shelf in their apartment in your basement, and they could’ve bought a house with all that student loan debt they incurred to get that degree in business management. But, by God, our kids went to college.

For the record, I happen to think college is awesome. I loved it in small doses over many years and graduated from a few places. I even taught it for a while. I don’t think I’d be doing what I love without my college experiences–not because a degree is required to be an unpublished author, but because college gave me focus and purpose outside of my role as a teen wife and parent. It sort of saved me in that way. And I can’t help it, I hope my kids choose it, too (college, not teen parenting).

What if what’s really right for some kids (including mine) has nothing to do with going to college, though? What if there’s a skilled trade at which they’d excel or a life path down which they’d fucking rock because they’re genuinely passionate about something? Is that a message we want our kids to hear? I hope so. I hope we’re not afraid to talk about that–about how there are all different ways to work hard toward success. How many unemployed 22-year-old unspecified business moguls can one planet hold, anyway? Look around. Most of the people making a living in this economy REALLY KNOW HOW TO DO SOMETHING.

When we pretend there’s no such thing as a decent future unless you go to college, are we really trying to help our kids avoid some of the disappointments of adulthood? Or are we condemning them to that disappointment–something they may never have suffered if we hadn’t imposed our concept of success and happiness on them? Do you want me to stop asking rhetorical questions yet?

Maybe we should worry more about our kids’ character development and less about their career development. I think a teenager with a healthy self-image and decent character will do okay for himself. He’ll figure out what’s right for him. And if he doesn’t, I doubt college would’ve made all the difference.

What do you think? Have I simply been exposed to too much end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff, thinking we need to screw college and raise the next generation to wrestle wild animals for survival? And what about books that make heroes out of people you might not actually want your kids looking up to (in your heart of hearts, even though you wish you didn’t feel that way)?

***

P.S. I do not know (as of this moment) how to change the oil in my car. Don’t tell anybody. I blame college. Also, I’m sorry for picking on business majors. What, you expect me to pick on liberal arts?

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First books are rarely first rodeos

An author’s first manuscript almost never becomes his or her first book (especially if the goal is traditional publication). And if it does, the finished product probably barely resembles the early drafts. If an author tells you otherwise, that person is a freak talent or a fat liar. I didn’t make that up, either–it’s a scientific fact on which ten out of ten publishing professionals agree. It’s also in the Bible, if you read it just so, and are open to seeing things that aren’t there.

I started my first manuscript in 2005. I worked with it, on and off, for about six years, I think. Hey, cut me some slack. I was busy running away to an island and getting divorced and getting married and getting more kids and working some other jobs, including a different writing gig.

During that time, I got a few rejections (eight hundred million), and everything changed about my manuscript. Everything. Even then, and even though my agent liked it enough to take me on, it still needed work. We went through a couple of rounds of revisions, then Linda sent it back with some additional thoughts.

But between rounds, something fantastic and magical happened. I wrote another manuscript. And this time, it kind of fell out of me. I liked it so much that I sent my agent a note that looked something like this:

Linda didn’t kill me, but she did tell me to quit whining and acting so dopey. And to never show my handwriting to anybody else or I’ll never be taken seriously as an adult (wait, that was my mother).

She read the new story and agreed that, already in the first draft, the second manuscript feels stronger. Tighter. Better. During our meeting about it, I took copious notes on her specific suggested changes:

ACTUAL NOTES. But don’t worry, I have everything she told me RIGHT UP HERE
*taps head containing huge brain*

I’m glad I trusted my gut on this. I’m trusting Linda’s guts too. I mean, I’ve only got one shot as a debut author and I don’t want to eff it up. So, yay for six years of wasted time! I mean learning!

And I haven’t given up on the first manuscript. For real. I just need to rewrite it, one more time, after not looking at it for like ten years. Just kidding. A little.*

Also, writers, if you haven’t read Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT, you should. She’s smart and funny. Mostly smart. And/or check this out: www.chavelaque.blogspot.com/2012/08/theory-klein-pyramid-of-literary-quality.html (apologies, as always, for my inability to make a pretty link).

Am I right about first manuscripts? Did your very first manuscript turn into your first book? Or will it? What keeps you hopeful? Why do we torture ourselves this way? Why are we here?

*Not kidding at all
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