Last time we talked (and talked and talked and talked--hey, I've already told you it takes me 10,000 words to say "hello") about hurrying work to publication before it's ready. About what makes us want to do that silly thing. And a little bit about how not to do that silly thing.
This time around, we're going to talk about developing patience.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist.) (Ahem.)
Developing enough patience to hold onto a work until it's truly ready to go out into the big bad world by itself isn't an easy thing. We've all been stung by the impulse to send something out too soon: we burst through to the end of a manuscript, we're exhilarated, and we craft a query letter and stick that puppy in an envelope...
...only to discover a few hours later that we left a massively unfinished sentence unfinished because we were going to "get to it later"...
...or we called a character by the wrong name on p. 212...
...or there's a big ol' embarrassing bunch of telling rather than showing that we could have done much better on the next draft...
...or sometimes something even more egregious.
Now, to a non-writer, some of this stuff may sound silly. Who cares if you mistakenly called your character by the wrong name three-quarters of a way through a manuscript? Or who cares if you've got telling rather than showing? Well, for one person, an editor cares. If you've sent something out to an editor too soon, you've given her an easy reason to say "no." And that's one thing you definitely don't want to do.
But what about readers? If you're going direct to reader, can't some of this stuff be overlooked? Aren't readers willing to cut you more slack than one of those hated stuffy ol' gatekeepers?
Well, maybe. But why take the chance? Odds are that even non-writers will notice an unfinished sentence. Most of the time, even non-writers will notice a character being called by the wrong name--if for no other reason than that it stops them for a moment and makes them think, "Wait a minute. Isn't that so-and-so?" The unfinished sentence will stop them the same way.
That's precisely what you don't want to do to a reader. Every time a reader stops, she loses contact and identification with your characters for just that split second. Every time she stops because of something you did...you've stuck your figurative foot out and tripped her. Too many stumbles, and that reader won't want to stick around in your story--it's starting to leave bruises.
Which is why just about when most of us think we're "done" with a given book is actually the point at which the real work starts. That's when we do our editing. Our fierce quizzing of every little detail in the book to make sure it's right and it belongs. Our ruthless "murdering of the darlings" that most of the time is necessary, but that cannot--and may never--occur if we've published the material too soon.
Yes, some books can be freely revised and "tweaked" even after publication date. Some platforms allow for it, even make it easy. This is great for those cases where books are letter-perfect when they leave your keyboard and have Gremlins attack in the meantime. In those cases, tweaking is not only OK but the only fair way to make sure your work is shown in its best light.
Any other time, however, it's a crutch. And if you're a writer worth your salt, you don't want to hobble through your career on crutches. That's where patience can be a miracle cure.
So how do you practice patience in your writing work?
1. Let it settle. We hinted at this earlier, and we've also mentioned it in other blog posts over the years. Typing "The End," in this case, is only the beginning. It's the signal for you to put your feet up, put the work aside, and give it time away from your eyes. How long? Long enough so that when you come back to it, you aren't too close to it. A week's too short in most cases; some writers I've read recommend six months. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think somewhere between three and six weeks is about ideal. They say we need three weeks of practicing a new behavior before it becomes a habit; three weeks, then, may be what your "system" needs to "clear out" the work in its present form so you can look at it fresh. The longer you can wait past three weeks, I believe, the better off your work will be in the end. And if you can do that six-months thing...you don't need this post. You're already patient!
2. Refill the well. Some folks will tell you to start another work right away, and there was a time when I would have been right on board that bus with them. I'll give you this much: if you've got another idea that's been pounding at the bars wanting to get out while you finished this one...you can certainly sketch out some new material. But if I were you, I'd resist the urge to immediately start plunging whole-hog into a "new" work. You need time to catch your creative breath, time to let new ideas percolate, and time enough away from the old writing routine, voice, characters, and other elements so that your "new" work actually sounds new--and not like Son Of Work You've Just Finished. We've all seen writers who have a "new" book that was clearly started when they were still enmeshed in the old one. The book might be good, but the odds are it'll be better if it's got its own space and time.
3. Have faith. This is actually the crux of the matter--the ability to rise above the vaguely (or not-so-vaguely) hysterical advice out there about "getting your name out." Yes, you want your work to become known; yes, you want to make money as an author, and to do that, people have to know you exist. But quantity at the expense of quality isn't an attribute most of us want attached to our names--and a writing career that starts out great and only gets better is worth the wait. Waiting, however, takes a degree of trust. It takes a degree--actually a whole bunch of degrees--of faith. And it takes enough humility and balance to understand that your opportunity will come along without your having to hurry it.
Let me say that again, because it flies in the face of so much propaganda--and, let's face it, real-life experience. The essence of the patience you need not to "go off half-cocked" with work that's half-ready is trusting that opportunities are like buses: there's always another one coming. :-)
Interestingly enough, in our present publishing climate, that's more true than it's ever been. In the days of having to submit stuff by paper, wait six months to a year to two years to hear anything back, and then do the whole process over again with every rejection, the idea that "my opportunity is just around the corner" could sometimes sound Pollyanna-ish, if not deluded. Time spent waiting didn't feel like productive time, and if you weren't careful, it wasn't. But now, with subsidy publishing, small presses, direct-to-reader, and all the permutations of the more "traditional" publishing model that are out there...you can pretty much bank on the fact that when your book is ready, you'll be able to publish it--one way or another. You're not going to "lose your chance" forever if you don't hurry, or if you don't supply a market with X number of books in six months, or if you don't Get That Sequel Out Yesterday. Your readers will wait for quality; the market will reward quality, especially if you've given it to them from the very beginning and continue to do so.
But you cannot hope to provide consistent high quality without taking a decent amount of time over the product in the first place. Cutting corners, deciding you need to "show" the industry what "real writing" is, or any of the other chip-on-shoulder or hurry-the-bus-is-leaving behaviors in which you might be tempted to indulge aren't going to get you where you want to go. They're like the get-rich-quick schemes that are all over the place; you might have a flash of what you think is brilliance, even temporary success...but then it'll dry up as fast as it came in the first place. And if I know you as an author, that's not what you want. Flashes in the pan, apply elsewhere. Most of us want better than that.
So don't go there. Don't fall for the pressure, don't believe the hype and/or disaster scenarios, and above all...don't make yourself susceptible to "hurry sickness." Better one book a year that's so over-the-top great you can hardly believe you wrote it yourself, than six mediocre or "good enough" products. Your brand is important; take the time, challenge yourself, and have the faith to make those products great, one at a time, with all the time they deserve.
There really, truly, is no hurry. Take your time, and you'll actually move toward your goals much more smoothly in the long run. And...you'll enjoy the trip!