So, you want to be a REAL writer? Who doesn’t, right? Here’s a quick How To guide that will have you smashing it in no time. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin:
1) Write all the words
I am a recently-converted plotter, so really I should have started with the plotting your story out*, but plotting involves words too. Just get them down–don’t worry about how good they are yet. As Ernest Hemingway notably said . . .
All done? Great job. Apparently 97% of people who start writing a novel never finish it, so you’ve already beaten them. It was hard work–I know–but now that it’s done, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour, sending it out into the world and awaiting the multitude of agents and publishers who will be ringing non-stop as soon as they get their mits on it. Um, no. Not yet, I’m afraid . . .
2) Get them words in the right order
Yes folks, this is the REALLY HARD bit. I’ve even done a graph. That’s right A GRAPH. This is how serious I am about it.
If you sent your book off to agents after finishing your first draft then don’t worry. You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last–the most commonly mentioned criticism from agents is that books are sent to them before they are ready. You may strike lucky and you send them something that they’re particularly looking for, and they take you on knowing they will have to do a lot of work, but the chances of that are about the same as finding yourself a pet dodo.
Editing takes time–not just making the words pretty, but also telling the story in the best way possible. I am currently in the purple phase with my book. I have to admit to sending it out to agents and editors and competitions after the green phase because I thought it was done. That was last summer. It is now 9 months later, AND I AM STILL NOT DONE!
3) Getting feedback
So, now you’ve finished your editing, what next? I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to get feedback on your work, whether that be paid editors, Critique Partners or beta-readers. The more pairs of eyes you get looking over your manuscript, the more likely you are to get a positive result when you finally come to submit.
4) Sending your work out into the world
Got your submission package all polished up? Had feedback on that too? Great going. Next you need to decide where you want to send it. Agents? Publishers? Competitions? All of them? You decide. Now just press the button.
Have you got the heart-pounding palpitations yet? The sudden realisation that it’s all shit and what were you thinking–they’re going to hate it? Refreshing your inbox maniacally? Then well done, you’ve successfully unlocked WRITER’S LIFE STAGE 4.
5) Waiting, waiting and more waiting.
Yes, that’s right. This is your life now. Wait, wait, wait . . . refresh, refresh, refresh . . . for months at a time. Even when you finally get some good news (although A LOT of it will be bad news), the waiting doesn’t end there. After an agent has requested a partial / full, you wait to hear back from them to see whether or not they want to represent you; when you finally get taken on, you wait to find out about revisions; after your agent is happy with the revisions they will send your manuscript to publishers, and you wait to find out if they want to sign your book . . . et cetera.
Every stage of a writer’s life is filled with the gaping abyss of waiting for news / feedback. Writing something else is the best way to handle this pure torture. Also try developing other coping mechanisms too–going for walks / meeting friends / take up the ukulele–whatever helps you unwind.
But when you finally have a publishing contract under your belt, all the pain and torture comes to an end, right? Erm . . . not really. There’s no guarantee that your publisher will be interested in your second book or that the sales will go well or that the reviews will be favourable. Basically, this whole merry-go-round of torture just goes on and on. Even if you end up on the New York Times bestsellers’ list, there will always be bad news mixed in with the good news–crappy reviews and literary prizes you don’t even get longlisted for and trolls on Twitter. And there will still be waiting, lots of waiting–it usually takes around 1-2 years from the initial signature on the book deal to publication date. So just try to keep on writing and enjoying the simple pleasure of the words. Because, you guessed it, this is all part of the “real writer” experience–you’re doing it already.
*If your forehead scrunched up at the mere mention of plotting then I can highly recommend Writers’ HQ’s Plotstormers course. This is where I learned how to properly structure a story.