What's the rush?

Back in May 2011 Publishing Perspectives reported that an estimated 200 million Americans said they’d like to write a book. Back then, that represented 64% of the population of the United States. I bet that number was just as high in other countries.

Word count: 478 Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Likewise I’m certain that every single person on the planet could tell a good story based on his or her share of life’s sorrows and joys.

  • Question: who is prepared to sit down and transcribe their vision into a book?
  • Answer: quite a few people if Twitter is any indication.

I searched ‘free e-book’ just now and got eighteen immediate hits. Six new results arrived in the time it took me to count those. I usually read 50-60 books a year so if I wanted to, I could fill my reading list with nothing but free e-books picked up on Twitter.

  • Next question: who is prepared to work and hone that original draft? To sit down and mould their experiences into a quality book?
  • Answer: not so many people if my experience with free e-books is an indication.

“We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know this is not true.” Robert Wilensky

The simple fact is it takes time, lots and lots of it, to learn to write well and to develop a strong voice. It takes stamina, both physical and psychological, to slog through the 20, 30, or 40 drafts that may be necessary to produce a single good scene. I didn’t realize this when I wrote the first book that was dying to get out of me. In fact my first three novels were more like monkeys typing than quality art.

Good writing isn’t something that’s tossed off in a few minutes whenever it’s convenient. It’s the culmination of training, effort, and setting ego aside, again and again. Of listening to how tension hasn’t been sustained in a scene or how the characters simply aren’t convincing. It’s about having the patience to hear all that and still tackle the next revision with heart and soul.

Speed and quantity do not trump craftsmanship and quality.

Then there is the final – brutal – fact of life that even if a person does invest a huge effort into being the very best writer they can be, it doesn’t ensure success. But, as Steven Pressfield suggests in his Writing Wednesdays column about the 10,000 hour rule, maybe mastering the craft is its own reward.

What started you writing? Was it a single idea? How has your commitment to your first (or second or third) book stood the test of time? Do you push out work at a great rate of knots? Or are you patiently crafting a good story, told as well you can tell it?

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 Picture from Wikimedia Commons: Dogge mit Würsten by Wilhelm Trübner

 

Is your writing as strong as good tea?

The patience of tea refers to its quality after being brewed many times. Good teas – patient teas – maintain complexity and flavour with multiple infusions. The flavour evolves each step of the way, as Joshua Kaiser one of the world’s leading tea experts demonstrates here.

Likewise, patience builds a good writing career.

(Word count: 342                Reading time: 1-2 minutes)

  • First we have to learn to write well. Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule: it suggests that 90 minutes a day practice for twenty years is needed to master something. I’m unsure if I agree with that onerous a requirement but I do know that writing proficiency demands practice, as least as much as sports, music, or art. There is no way out of this.
  • Then we have to wait for recognition.
  • While the first two processes are underway, we must dip into the world of social media where, Suw Charman-Anderson reminds us, maintaining a blog or website is a long game. It can take months or even years to develop a strong following.

In other words, if you want to carve out a career as a writer, be prepared to cultivate the virtue of patience. Tolstoy said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Right now the publishing industry is battling for sales in a constantly changing, more-distracted-than-ever market. Prepare for a wait. How?

  • Keep writing.
  • Keep studying the craft of writing.
  • Throw yourself into new experiences and enjoy the moment, embrace the now. It will ultimately feed your writing.
  • Meditate. Seriously: take time to breathe and relax.
  • Stay strong and determined – two essential skills.
  • Slow down. There are shortcuts but, if you take them and publish or submit before a novel is well-polished, you may burn a lot of bridges.

Impatience is the intolerance of anything that thwarts or delays us. It’s a wonderful quality in a character. In a writer a lack of patience crimps the prose and taints the voice.

What are you waiting for in your writing life? Are you like patient tea, transforming with multiple infusions of practice and feedback?

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Photo by: Ragne Kabanova

Getting there (I hope)

Word count: 252               Reading time: 1-2 mins.

“How long does getting thin take?” asked Pooh anxiously. He’s stuck in the door of Rabbit’s house and wants to be free.

I’m suspended in the land of commercially unpublished authors and I want to be free of this place. How long does getting published take? How long should it take?

 In the book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell asserts that acquiring greatness demands a huge investment of time, about 10,000 hours. Okay maybe I can’t aspire to greatness but I do want to create the very best fiction I can. Perhaps my apprenticeship isn’t complete yet.

Gladwell also points out that success "is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.” Maybe 2012 will be the year when the planets will align in my favour.

When I am discouraged at how long the getting-published process takes, I search for perspective. The Crime Fiction Blog has a list of ironically-named overnight success stories that can take the edge off an emerging writer’s anxiety. Another source of comfort is reading rejection letters that were sent to famous authors. In the meantime I remind myself of Robert Heinlein's fifth rule of writing: keep it on the market until it is sold.

So I look to the shiny New Year with fresh hope and determination. Something’s got to give.

All you struggling apprentices out there, are you in it for the long haul? How do you handle those bruising rejection letters? 

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Artwork: E.H. Shepard