The Dangers of thinking about Publishing too soon

I watched the last episode of season five of Supernatural last night. (Again!) A character called Chuck, who is a prophet and writes what he sees, that being the adventures of Dean and Sam, talks about endings. He says-

‘Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible.’

Ending my first book was easy. I don’t know what a ‘chapped-ass’ monkey is, but, whatever it is, I must be a lesser creature. I can’t poop out a beginning that I’m fully happy with. Even marginally happy with.

But endings? I find endings easy. In fact, the last page of my first book has never and will never be edited. It doesn’t need to be. It arrived on the page in a ray of perfection. For those of you who know I’m writing a series, two of them actually, you might be thinking ‘yeah, but that’s not really the end, is it?’

No, it’s not. But I have written the end of the entire series too.

See? I’m good with endings.

So when I reached the end of my first book, and a full stop was sitting at the end of that perfect ending, well, naturally I was feeling pretty damn epic. I’m going to go ahead and say godly. Or goddessly…

Of course, it’s really thousands of words before the end that thoughts of what’s next creep in. When you can see the end in the distance, who can help look beyond? And who knows, when it’s their first book, that they shouldn’t peak past the finish line?

Writing is a rainbow, and publishing is the pot of gold that might be at the end. The problem is that pot is back on the ground. The rainbow is up in the air, away from the world. It’s colourful and beautiful and truly miraculous. It’s basked in sunlight and bordered by rainclouds at the same time. But once you look at that pot, you begin to descend. You leave that writing heaven. You’re on the downward slope, and the world pours back in.

But a rainbow is a curve, isn’t it? So you start at the bottom and scene after scene carries you up and over. Surely the last chapters are on the downward slope, and the end is at the end?

The end is not the end.

You think you’re finished your book? Think again. There are several hundred types of ‘finished’ in writing. First draft, rewrite, edit number one, edit number two…

Writing the book, beginning to end, is the easy part. Finishing it is easy. Especially when perfect endings line the page. But having it be finished?

Finished, as in nothing else to do?

Finished, as in ‘here you go, Mr. Agent, three chapters, and the rest is waiting.’

Finished, as in a request for the full manuscript is like waiting for the results of an exam you know you aced.

Finished, as in you think about your book and your mind sighs with happy, proud, relief.

Would knowing just how hard it is to get published help you get there? Would knowing the statistics, the facts, the hard truths, really propel you towards that ultimate finishing line? Would knowing what is and is not wanted, what’s hot in the market, what’s commercial, be of any benefit at all?

Would knowing just how amazing your book has to be help you reach your potential?

I don’t think so.

Lines that were once so clear get twisted. Suddenly you’re half trying to mould your book to what the market wants. Even though, really, who knows what the market is going to want in the future? Is the market predictable? I mean, who saw Harry Potter and Twilight coming? Wizards and vampires? Really?

By the time you’d be ready to hop on the ‘what’s hot’ train, it would have passed. And you’d be left, standing alone in a wasteland, clutching your out-of-date ticket. Or not alone. Surrounded in isolation by the thousands who missed it too.

For me, my stories were set. I snubbed all manner of trains. But what happened to me, when I thought about publishing too soon, is the words dried up. You learn rules you didn’t want to know. Like adjectives are the devil, description is death and ‘telling’ is torture. Between the odds and the rules there’s no room left for writing.

And here’s the kicker.

You weren’t finished writing. You really weren’t. There was so much more to do. Parts to flesh out, sections to cut, scenes to write in. There were knots to untangle, holes to fill, new depths to be dug. So right after the first writing of your book is a terrible time to lose the ability, or dare I say the will, to write.

There is a time to explore the publishing world. Time to eye-up that pot of gold, throw it wink and eyebrow waggle. That time is after your first full edit. After the rewrite, if you need one. After you’ve made your book everything you wanted it to be.






Feel the love.

(I don’t actually know anything. This is a rant of sorts, you probably shouldn’t read it.)

I love my story, ok?

That’s why I’ve spent hours writing, days imagining, and months thinking. That’s what makes a book; that’s how you do it. Classes and workshops and seminars on ‘How to write a book’ are clearly taking the long-winded approach.

You can’t teach someone how to write a book.

The only way to learn is to write one.

Yes, it will probably be terrible. The story, hopefully, will be great. But the writing? You’ll read back over your first draft and laugh at yourself, I guarantee it. Let it out though; laughing is good.

You will also cringe.

At this point the ability to highlight and cut should be taken full advantage of. Words shouldn’t be seen as precious things. When in doubt, make a new file and store all your cut paragraphs in there. If you really think some arrangement of words is golden, mark it. Mining for gold is not fun.

Now I’m not bashing courses and the likes. They might name a course ‘how to write a novel’, but that’s just to get people in the door. They won’t tell you how to write a book, or where to find an idea. No, they’ll tell you about writing; the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and, with any luck, where to put an apostrophe. Count yourself blessed if this is done in an inspiring way. If you learn a lot of new things; congratulations you’re in the right place.

(You should consider reading a book or a hundred as well as sitting in class. You CAN read a book and write your book at the same time. The stories don’t get intertwined, and your ideas remain yours.)

Then they’ll make you write.

You will panic.

If you didn’t have an idea growing beforehand (in which case you should definitely write it down, but you might learn that fact later in the course) then your mind is going to go blanker than a big whitewashed wall. Whatever you come up with will be shit. If offered to read yours out loud, don’t. Don’t make eye contact with the teacher just in case. If you feel in danger, think about crackers and jam to give yourself a faraway look and maybe, just maybe, the teacher will think you are presiding over a world you’ve created and leave you alone.

After that the rules come along. Rules rules rules. Follow them or watch your writing ambitions swirl down the loo. Or don’t follow them, if you have a good reason not to; it’s not that big a deal.


In a seashell

How do you write a book? Get an idea, love it, write it.

I can see the next question…

How do you get an idea? Ahem, well let me tell you. You just fricking get an idea, ok? If you need to ask how then I’m sorry but it’s never going to happen. Actually I’m not sorry. Your mind needs to be alive to get an idea. You clearly killed yours. Tut tut.

And then…

How do you complete a book? Write until you reach the end. Huzzah!

And then…

It’s still a bit shit though. Go to a workshop. With a book, or something book-like, completed. That way you’ll understand a lot more of what the host is talking about.