Today I thought I would let you in on a writing secret that isn’t so little. It is one of the most important things I’ve learned as a writer and it is a fact of which I constantly remind myself. It is simply this: writing is a marathon not a sprint, so be patient.
Let me repeat, your writing career is a marathon not a sprint, so be patient and persistent with yourself and your work. Make no mistake that this is a career choice—one that has a long gestation period. I have heard it said that to be an expert in a certain field requires you to practice the associated skill set consistently for ten to fifteen years. For writing, this is particularly true. Most new writers are so excited and inspired about crafting the “next great book” that they try to rush through the writing process instead of enjoying the journey. I know I certainly did. However, most newcomers to the profession have no idea what a long slog they are about to undertake. Almost every person who has ever been inspired by a great book swears that she has a novel or two floating around in somewhere in her head. While that is probably true, most normal people do have the necessary level of patience, persistence, and discipline to contribute the sheer amount of work and time required to empty that story from their brains and hearts into a cohesive collection of chapters.
How much work are we discussing? Well, let us suppose that you write 400 words every single weekday just as I have suggested you do in previous articles. Writing 400 words per weekday gives you 2000 words per week and 104,000 words at the end of a single year. A good average length for a fantasy book, for example, is between 80,000-120,000 words, so writing 100,000 words in a year is very good. If you do finish a 100,000 word novel within the first year of your writing career, then congratulations! Please take a moment to pat yourself on the back because you have just achieved something that most others will fail at doing.
So, now is the time to take your beautiful book and submit it for publication to your favorite publishing house or self-publish it, right? Wrong! Do not make your baby in any way, shape, or form public (yes, that includes posting all of it on your website blog for people to read)! Instead take your manuscript and lovingly file it away in the bowels of your computer and/or in the back your sock drawer for a while.
Now that that you work is safely archived and backed up in case of the Apocalypse, go treat yourself to a little vacation time. Take a few days off from writing. Take a fun trip, paint your toenails, throw a party, knit a new scarf, or whatever else you want to do. You’ve earned it! After all, you have just done something that you weren’t sure you could accomplish a year earlier. Seriously take a little time to celebrate! You will need the time off before you begin the next part of your writing journey.
When you come back from your vacation, sit down and plan your next project. Work on it for a few weeks and give your first novel time to “rest”. I recommend leaving the first novel alone for about two months. The reason for this is because the resting time will help you read your baby with fresh, unbiased eyes. This is extremely important. I am sorry to tell you that when you finally do look at the manuscript, you’ll be shocked to see that it is not quite as perfect as you remembered. There will be misspellings, comma-splices, run-on sentences, clichés, and phrases that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you are like me, you will want to bang your head on the keyboard when you realize the amount of edits you need to make.
This is where patience comes into play. While I was writing my Skinshifter novel off and on from 2006 to early 2009, I also wrote other shorter works. Short stories like “Sumari’s Solitude” helped me refine my skills using dialogue and sprinkling in underlying tension. This translated into better and better writing when working on the book. Even so, “Sumari’s Solitude” and other short stories of that time period have each undergone at least four revisions each to clean up their prose and double-check their plot continuity. I just finished my fourth draft of Skinshifter in August 2013 and then promptly sent it off to beta readers to critique it again. My current copy is now the fifth version of the manuscript.
Why would I do this five times? I’m insane, right? Remember that Skinshifter was my first novel—the book I used to learn how to write fiction in the first place. Many authors I know have their first novel manuscript printed and permanently locked in the bottom of a drawer. Most of them have sworn that their first novel will never ever see the eye of an editor, much less a reader. Most first novels are too poorly written to be made public, but they serve as important reminders to their authors of all they achieved and all that they learned.
Skinshifter was not quite to the point of being bottom-drawer fodder, but it was pretty raw when I finished its first draft in February 2009. Due other circumstances in my life, I could not actually pick it up and edit it until early 2011. At that time the book underwent major rewrites in preparation for it to be formally critiqued by a local English teacher. Between her keen eye and my ruthless revision, I managed to make the book presentable to publishers. Or so I thought. After submitting the manuscript for publication and receiving several kind but firm rejections, I decided to drag it back into the editing cycle this past summer to see what I was missing. Thanks to my incredible beta readers, I finally found continuity errors that I had overlooked in the previous three drafts. I am far more confident in it during this round of beta reading, but I also know that there is more work ahead before it is good enough to be published. Such is the life of a writer.
I am not saying that every single story will require five revisions. Some stories need more help and some less help than others. I have about five short story rough drafts which are finished, but which will never see the light of day because their plots are too broken to be fixed. I also have one story that only required a single editing session before it was published. If you pay attention to your story’s needs, you will know when a manuscript is fit for publication. If a story does not feel right, edit it again or send it to a beta reader that you trust. Do this over and over again until the story feels solid.
Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia C. Cooke and/or Alycia Christine Sears at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!