So people ask me (often) what it’s like to write, be a writer, be in the writing industry, etc. I usually answer with some tongue-in-cheek bullshit about playing with imaginary friends, avoiding showers, and having too many cats. I’m going to stop being a dong now and attempt to talk REAAAAAL about being in this insane industry in hopes of shedding some light on stuff. Things. Whozits. Okay? Okay.
Writers Write. Novelists Write Books.
Writers write, whether that’s blog posts, slash fiction, flash fiction, or essays. Novelists write books to completion. You can be a writer and not be a novelist. You cannot be a novelist without writing a novel to completion. The hardest parts about being a novelist? Seeing the insane months/years through good and bad so you can type The End. Casting self-doubt aside and saying, “fuck it, I’m going to finish this” even if you’ve convinced yourself it’s a huge turdburger of a book. Acknowledging that “tweaking this previous chapter” is really another stalling technique so you don’t have to make a new chapter. Novelists write books to completion. It doesn’t count if you keep starting and stopping. Shut off the TV, shut off the internet, and sit in your Batcave to make words. Tell your spouse to go diddle himself in another room so you can finish a paragraph. Eliminate distractions so you can make something intangible come to life on the page /every day for an indefinite amount of forever/.
You Will Have Other Ideas. Those Ideas, Until You Finish This Project, Have Herpes.
The only way to finish a book is to stay loyal to your current story. Stop pursuing other story ideas because the first story got old and you want to write some new, shinier story that’s shaking its ass at you. Sketch out a /few/ notes if the fresh idea’s that good, but don’t outline a full book, because then all you’re doing it stalling out your current project. No, really, that’s all you’re doing – avoiding making words with another pretty excuse. You may think this new, shiny idea is something you’ll go back to later, and you might, but the reality is from the time you start your current book to the time you finish it, you’ll probably have at least a half-dozen more ideas come slutting on by. One of them will likely outshine whatever wonderful thing you just spent a week planning. Short notes for new projects are okay, but don’t let them have too much brain real estate or you’ll find yourself with another half-finished manuscript and a lot of self-loathing.
You Shouldn’t Compare Yourself To Other Writers.
You will, of course, because we all tend to measure our own successes against other people, but the truth is in the book world? What happened in three months for one writer happened in twelve for another. That doesn’t mean the three month pub deal person is somehow better than the twelve-month, it just means things worked out differently for these authors. Maybe some editor’s list had a gap for horror and Slappy McFartNuts wrote a horror AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME so said editor scooped it up right away. But over here, Sancho BoobSmackerton wrote a paranormal romance that wasn’t right for the editor at the time it came in so the editor waited until the market softened before taking it to acquisitions. Both got a deal eventually, one just hit the timing nail on the head right off the bat. Circumstances will dictate terms of a deal – circumstances are often things an author can’t control. If you ask yourself WHYYYYY and compare your path to publication with everyone else, you’ll go insane.
You Will Wait. Forever. Deal With It.
Agents and editors get full manuscripts heaped on them all the time, and unless your manuscript is on fire, it’s going into a pile along with everyone else’s. I have an editor friend who gave me an idea of his current workload, and I stared and went O_O in both fear and admiration. These people are inundated. They read what they can when they can, but you may go a half a year without a word, and that’s just how it has to be. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean you’re not a special snowflake. It means that they’re behind, and there’s only so many hours in a day, and reading books is a long process. It’s horrible for authors to have to wait — we’ve dedicated heart and soul into that goddamned project and we want answers now — but the reality is . . . you’re a number until it’s your time not to be a number anymore. Find something productive to do with the wait time (like write another book) and remember that everyone’s waiting. Three-week submission deals happen, but not as often as you might think.
Your Agent Is Not Your Therapist, But They Do A Hell Of A Job Moonlighting.
For a querying author, an agent is terrifying – they’re Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades, and HOW DO THEY MANAGE ALL THREE OF THOSE SNARLING HEADS? To an agented author, a good agent is a Godsend. When you doubt yourself, they’ll perk you up. They’ll tell you how they’re trying to make you shine in the industry. They’ll give you their vision of your career. When an author is waiting on submission FOREVER, agents sustain our fragile little egos so we can continue to make words. An agent isn’t a shrink, nor should they be used like one, but they do a fantastic friggin’ job pretending sometimes. They keep the souls of their needy little mongrel writers nourished.
There is much more to say on this topic, of course, and I’ll probably venture back to it at another time, but for now I think I’ve covered the bases. The TL:DR version of the post? Stop making excuses and write. Stop looking at shiny things and write. Stop picking at chapter four and write chapter five. Editing can be done later: write. Once you’ve written, you’ll wait forever to hear something and it will drive you batty. Find something productive to do in the meanwhile, like write. Always write. Write for yourself. Write for your potential agent. Write for the agent you have.