Want to know the most stupid movie cliché?
It’s the whimsical writer character who’s secretly poured their heart and soul into a book* that they’re too afraid to let anyone read. As the movie plods towards its happy ending, the writer finally finds the courage they need to send their book to a publisher**. They are instantly published.
If someone told me they’d peed on one of my cats, it could hardly be more offensive.
Writing needs editing – by you, by an HONEST friend (who tells you it has enormous flaws – because it always does), and by a professional.
Writing a good book takes time and practice. This almost always means THROWING AWAY that first, treasured book. Personally, I’ve thrown away several. Most people take five to ten years to get vaguely competent at writing – which seems crazy, because any literate human can, technically, write a book. The problem is that you can’t measure good writing, so people tend to vastly overestimate their own skill – hence the need for real editors.
Getting a good book published isn’t a given either. You need a little bit of luck to hit the market at the right time and place (which includes learning the stylistic writing fashions of the day – which are constantly changing, hence the need to read modern books in your genre). In practice, this means writing more than one book.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The average book has a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting published. If you really love writing for the experience of writing, that’s no problem at all.
Which leads me on to what I’m actually celebrating today. Two months ago, an industry person asked to read the full manuscript of my YA steampunk novel. Unfortunately I needed to write an extra scene – something that would normally take me a day or two. I was too sick to sit up for more than a few minutes at a time, so I was forced to put off the industry person. . . for two months. If I’d been well at the time, I’d know her answer by now (argh!) – she is one of the rare people that replies when she says she will (in this case, within two months).
YesterdayI finally reached the point where the book was good to go (and I used my extra time to also have CJ check it over from cover to cover and make several suggestions, some of them quite large – that’s the best kind of editorial suggestion), and I sent it off yesterday.
I happen to know my chances of an “I want to work with you” response are now 1 in 10 – which is a huge improvement. On the other hand, that also means there’s a 90% chance she’ll say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
It doesn’t particularly matter. The thing that excites me most of all is the pride I feel in knowing I’ve written a really good book – because I’ve been writing for so long, I actually CAN tell that the writing is good (the whole “requesting of the full manuscript from the first person who saw it” is also a handy clue).
Since early this year, my writing area has been slowly spreading and overflowing with information on duelling guns, historical architecture, steam engines, character sheets, and clockwork rats. Since the book is now polished to a shine, I can FINALLY tidy all the notes and pictures away for a rainy day – which is to say, the next round of editing.
I can’t wait.
*often written by hand or by typewriter, which is even more offensive – because it means they’ve done no editing whatsoever.
**sometimes after showing the book to a close friend, who tells them exactly how wonderful it is.
2 thoughts on “Done and done”
‘Back to the Future’ could possibly be seen as a subversion of this.
Marty’s father is mentioned as writing books (that he doesn’t let anyone read) in 1955. He gets all en-confidenced then, but when Marty returns to 1985, he’s only just getting a copy of his first published novel.
30 years – Ouch.
Ben: Excellent point! Yes, that one I don’t hate. Although it’s clearly not a deliberate subversion – just a convenient “towards the end of the movie” moment.