Friday, October 16, 2009

it doesn't get any easier

I'm going to switch tracks for a day or so and return to a topic I've visited only rarely in the past: advice to aspiring authors. It goes like this:

It never gets easier.

1. Writing the book has got to be the easiest part of the process. I mean... seriously, all you have to do is sit there and write. I know there are lots of people who think that's difficult, but it really isn't... and any published author who tells you otherwise is just trying to magnify their sense of accomplishment.

Just do the numbers game and you'll see what I mean. If you assume that an average-ish book is about 85,000 words long, and you sit down and write 500 words per day (although I am not finished with this yet, I'll predict this blog post will contain more than 500 words) -- which, for me, takes maybe an hour, tops -- you will have a book-length manuscript completed in about 6 months.

No big deal. Now, I'm also not saying that your book will necessarily be good. That's another thing all together... and, I'll be honest, most of the end results of Step One are not very good at all.

But, what the heck, this is the easy part: just getting the thing written. So, go ahead and quit. Tell yourself you can't do it. I don't really care. But, mark my words, it's the easiest part of the entire trip.

2. Getting an agent, for most first-time authors, is the step they'll say is the hardest part. Why do they say that? Because they've already completed the first step and they know how easy it was to just write a book. Most (but not all) agents serve to cull out the true crap from the stuff that actually may stand a chance of getting published, so they are very picky and difficult to impress.

After all, agents see hundreds or thousands of "Step Ones" every month.

So what do a lot of writers do? They end up spending more time trying to craft a really hooky and enticing query letter (I've always been uncomfortable with that term), which is how they try to get an agent's attention. At this point, if an agent asks to see a "Step One," they generally find that it has none of the qualities exhibited by the prose of the query (which the author probably had LOTS of help with and spent LOTS of time on.... unlike the 500 words per day effort they put into Step One).

But, if a writer does land representation from a REAL agent, they will always tell you that Step Two was WAYYYYYYY harder than step one.

[Let me digress for a moment: none of this actually happened to or pertains to my personal experience, which I don't want to write about. So if you happen to be a stuck-on-yourself-impressed-by-the-magnitude-of-your-accomplishment published author who wants to post a comment about how agents aren't necessary and you skipped step two, go right ahead. It still doesn't get any easier, Hemingway.]

3. Making a deal. Now that you've gone through Step One (easiest) and Step Two (difficult), your agent is ready to take your work and pitch it to acquisitions people in New York. If they're not taking it to New York, it's because your agent realizes this step is going to be too hard for you, your Step One, and your agent.

So let's say that it's not impossible. Step Three is now the hardest part.

See? It's not getting any easier.

This is the gut-wrenching, why-does-it-take-fucking-forever step where frequently an author will consider things like how messy shooting himself in the fucking head will be. It seems like once an offer has been made that clocks stop and nothing happens for months before the contracts actually appear on your doorstep.

Oh yeah... you're not the only person in the world who made it to this step, Shakespeare... which, by the way, is harder than steps one and two, and it's why nobody seems to care about you, your agent, or your Step One while you are on HOLD.

Okay. Get the picture?

It doesn't ever get easier.

(By the way-- 600+ words in about 30 minutes. But I always say BLOGGING IS NOT WRITING)

4. Revisions come after the contracts are signed and they put you on a schedule for publication. Generally, your pub date will be a year or two down the road from Step Three. If you live that long.

Waiting is not as easy as steps one through three, and for most first-time-authors, they get so caught up in the stress and agony of waiting that they do not write during this time... even though writing is the GODDAMNED EASIEST PART.

When you do get to the revisions part, some authors really take suggestions for change personally and think they are involved in some kind of ego contest between themselves and their editor.

Big mistake.

You're on the same team.

Again, this has nothing to do with my own experience. On my own path to publication, the revision part has been harder than the preceding steps because I get completely neurotic and hung up on everything during this time. I don't sleep, am very difficult and pouty, and usually wish I could be at step one but I'm not because I have goddamned revisions to do and I want my book to be perfect.

In the mean time, everything else that allegedly is going on in my life becomes chaotic and mismanaged because I can't pay attention to anything except the object sitting on my desk that is the source of my sleep-deprivation, so things get out of control and the little failures begin piling up and I take them all incredibly personally because, after all, I own them and I wonder why the hell I ever did this in the first place.

And then... I'll get an email from someone out of the blue telling me that they want to write novels... and, oh, by the way, it seems like writing a book is really difficult.


There. Nearly 1,000 words in about 40 minutes. At this rate, I could write a novel in about two-and-a-half days, straight, no sleep.

By the way, next month is NaNoWriMo. If you don't know what that is, look it up. Maybe I'll give it a shot, just for the hell of it. It's as easy as...