Monday, November 25, 2013

The Danger of the Published Author Fantasy

"Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you." –Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Do not let the dream of being a published author get in the way of your writing.  I know it's alluring, that fantasy of sitting at the front of a long line, pen in hand, signing all those fresh copies of your new novel, thanking everyone for their compliments and making just enough small talk about one or the other of your characters or your process to keep the line moving along, but still connect with each of your admiring readers, knowing all the while there's a fat check sitting in your bank account from the advance, and more like it on the way from those already accruing royalties.  I'm writing a book.  I've been writing it for a while.  I know this thought.  But I do not sit down with it at my desk.  
The difference between a drive and a delusion is that a delusion inhibits you.  The danger of this published author fantasy is that sometimes it can get so big in your head, you stop seeing your writing for what it is, and instead only see what you hope it to be.  When you allow yourself to do this, you set yourself up for a painful awakening.  You plow through to the end of a project, finish exhausted, maybe make a few changes, and now you’re ready to shop it around to a few test readers to check a bit of the grammar and give you their general impression before you start sending letters out to agents, and even a few queries to publishers just for good measure.  However, in your heart, you're terrified.  You don't have any idea what you've done.  You hope it's good, but you just don't know.  If any of your writing were good, you wouldn't be able to explain why.
Eventually the inevitable happens.  The hammer falls.  Sure, a few of your friends have given you responses with middling enthusiasm, but then you hear from someone serious.  This someone is going to treat you, not as a friend, but as a writer.  Now you have to face what you have written, and what you have written will not produce long lines of adoring fans.  What you have is a draft, and your work is still very much ahead of you.
The disparity between the fantasy of your writing, in which your first novel is imminent, and the reality of a pockmarked and incomplete draft can kill the dream entirely.  Don't do that to yourself.
My editor, K.P., recently read a manuscript from a friend of hers who fits what I've described.  What he gave her amounts to a detailed outline, really.  He even formatted the pages to the dimensions of a mass-market paperback, which are much smaller than your standard word doc.  She doesn't know how she's going to tell him, but she's not happy.  What he needs isn't an agent.  He doesn't even need her critiques.  What he needs to do is shove his manuscript in a drawer for three to six months, and only take it out again when he can look at it with fresh eyes and a cold, calculating demeanor, ready to figure out what he's done, learn from it, and move forward.  
Whether he tries to improve that story by re-writing it, or throws it back in the drawer and starts on the next one, it doesn't matter.  What matters is that he's ready to write.  You always have to sit down ready to write.  That's what writers do.  It's about the work, the pleasure of developing a story that excites you.  Write until you're finished, then write the next one.  You'll know you're finished when you know what you've done.
Of course a million dollar signing deal would be lovely, but that's business.  That's down the road.  Where you are right now is art.  Art is about making things, not lines of eager faces and an uncapped pen.
'til next time. 


  1. Well, that's great. I managed to delete all comments, not that there were many. Apologies.

  2. Love this - The difference between a drive and a delusion is that a delusion inhibits you. I'm going to quote you all over the place!