Friday, 16 September 2011

The Writer's Long Road

I made a comment this week that newbie writers are not ready to publish.
So we’re clear, when I said ‘newbie’, I meant they have literally just picked up a pen for the first time to write a novel. This may not have been clear on Twitter, where 140 characters doesn’t allow room for such caveats and disclaimers, but I was surprised when someone tweeted me about the comment.

This person found my statement so disheartening they felt they should stop writing altogether. I must confess, I was taken aback by this sweeping statement. Why should someone be disheartened by such a comment? Don’t people already know this?
Apparently, people don’t know this. Which is perhaps a reason for me to say it more often.
But we should know it. We none of us expect to ride a bicycle perfectly the first time – that’s why we have training wheels. My first day at law school, I was not ready to be a lawyer. Hell, my first day in my current job, I was not ready to be a lawyer, and yet, eight years later, I am a senior lawyer. These things take time. Is there anything that anyone can expect to do well the very first time they do it?

If a writer expects to succeed immediately, I would suggest they need to think again. The very act of writing is a lengthy process, even if you can devote your full attention to it, and most of us need to have day jobs as well. I have been working on my current WIP since January 2008. Granted, there was a long time in there when I did nothing, but if we break it down into actual active time it looks something like this:

• Four months to write a first draft and revise;
• Three to six months receiving feedback from critique group;
• Six months revising and editing (three times).
Now that’s very nearly eighteen months, and I haven’t even finished the last set of revisions, nevermind written a synopsis or query letter. Even if I was to land an agent, it would take time to find a publisher, and then it’s something like two years for the book to land on the shelf. We’re talking four years minimum from go to whoa. It can easily be more.
Granted, it’s much quicker if you self-publish. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. But you can see my earlier post on indie publishing for that particular rant.
The reality is a writer’s first ever manuscript is unlikely to be publishable without significant revisions. I won’t even try to rewrite my first manuscript. Or my second. Maybe – maybe – my third. The fourth I will.
Even well-known and best-selling authors were rejected multiple times before being published. Here are a few of the ones I know:
  • John Grisham’s ‘A Time To Kill’ - rejected 45 times;
  • Dr. Seuss - rejected 46 times;
  • Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt For Red October’ - rejected 12 times;
  • Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Postmortem’ - rejected 7 times;
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s ‘First Story’ - rejected 40 times;
  • William Stevenson’s 80’s bestselling thriller, ‘A Man Called Intrepid’ - rejected 109 times; and
  • James Lee Burke’s ‘The Lost Get-Back Bookie’ - rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Edgar.
If it took these authors this long and this many rejections to be published, then why should anyone expect to pick up a pen and immediately be worthy?
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I suggest writers be positive, which I distinguish from optimistic. Optimism is believing the best will always happen. I’m sorry, it won’t. Being positive is believing you can make the best happen, with hard work if necessary. Optimism allows no room for realism, being positive does.
Realism is important, because if you aren’t realistic, you will only be disappointed when the things you expect don’t happen.
Writers, the hard, real facts are, if you want to be a writer, you must be in it for the long haul.
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Krista said...

I think you are completely right. I just finoshed my first novel -(unpublished) but I have been writing for 15+ years. I still don't think my first novel is amazing. But I am going through the journey more to learn than anything else.

People should never give up of they can't figure have success now. The beat things in life are worth the struggle.

Anonymous said...

Hey... I think I'm the person you are blogging about. I only got my knickers in a twist because the way it read (to me anyway) on Twitter made it sound like the work I'm bleeding over, dredging up all the pain and angst I can to plug into characters I've created and love like they were my own kids - was just for naught because I'm a newbie and not ready to publish. It was a knee-jerk reaction. I apologize if it bothered you. I'm just very attached to the story now. I understand it may never be published. Or, it may, after it's been rejected and have to revise my work 50 times. It's all a part of the craft of writing. Per your sage advice, I won't give up. I can't give up. It's just too darned big.
Thanks - Lisa (@urbanmilkmaid)

Michael A Tate said...

I agree with you, and considering I feel I'm still a newbie after doing this for 3 years now, I'm not expecting my novel to be published. But yet I still work on it because the only way to get better is to practice all the steps. From the draft all the way to query strategies. (Pretty much what Krista said)

Too often I think people are looking for instant success.

Sirra said...

This is what I've been trying to tell all the "newbie" writers out there. But without having the time to hold their hands each time, it's hard to get this message out. What bothers me more is not the ones who feel like quitting, because let's face it, not all of us are going to make it, but the ones who run out there to self-publish their....stuff. The trend is an alarming one. Only if people have the patience to do the things in the right order, maybe we can have better reading materials out there.

Stephen Moran said...

It takes many years and much hard work to write a novel worth publishing. There are no shortcuts as there aren't in any other path one chooses in this life.

Simple message, work hard at your craft. Go to writing workshops, take a writing class. Put effort into improving.

Excellent post.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Hi Lisa,

I wasn't bothered so much, more surprised. I tend to assume that if I know something, then everyone must, or that it's obvious. One of my many failings. I was inspired to write this blog post so I could clarify the comment I had made on Twitter, and also because I realised maybe others needed to know as well. I would hate someone who was talented to give up because they didn't realise it would be difficult and would be put off by trying and failing. I, too, am wedded to my WIP, and I've had some harsh criticism, including being told I had written one novel from the wrong POV character. Whoops! I would like to be published, but if I never am, I still write for the love of it.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this blog and make a comment.

Safireblade said...

Wait, You mean I am not going to win the lottery the first time I buy a ticket?

See you are looking at me funny but expecting to become a super star from your first MS is very similar. Good advice - after all, Someone has to say it ;)

Anonymous said...

Very well said, I believe you clarified it nicely. I consider myself a newbie even though I have been working on some aspect of my trilogy or taking workshops for over 13 years now. I still have a lot to learn. I write because my stories never leave me alone and so they simply need to be told, if for no other reason than for me. I hope to see them on the shelf someday but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I will never take the self-publish route, but that is a personal choice.


Damyanti said...

Writers, the hard, real facts are, if you want to be a writer, you must be in it for the long haul.

Absolutely. I think most writers who want to make it big after 3 months of picking up a pen are doing it for the wrong reasons. We need to perfect our craft before we[re able to 'get the story in our head on to paper and into someone else's head in a smooth transition'...that takes time, and is still only a small part of the process.

Join me at the Rule of Three Writers' Blogfest!

Sophia Chang said...

Hear hear!

Surfed over from Imran's contest where your entry caught my eye - I do love fantasy! Nicely done and hoorah for stabbylove!

Exmoorjane said...

Hmm. Exactly what I needed to read right now. Realistic yet encouraging. Thank you.

Word verif is Verowave which seems curiously appropriate somehow - so verily I wave with truth at you!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I am posting this comment on behalf of @Milla64 who was nice enough to email me with her comment after having trouble posting the comment.

Gave up - was trying to leave this comment but just wouldn't take:came via a RT (Liz Fenwick) of Jane's linking this. The power of Twitter, not just your launch point, but drawing in strangers. Yes, encouraging despite the cautionary tone. A certain bloodied vein of self-belief has to persist despite the deeply depressing odds against ever achieving on any scale. Maybe at times one should settle for "the journey" - certainly less daunting than squinting ones eyes and trying to spot El Dorado three years down the road.

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