This will be a bit different post, focused on what changes when you become a published writer, and is mostly a reaction to a post by Ed White as well as a post by K.M Allan about releasing a hard-to-write book.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that my writing started by pretty much winging it out of nowhere. I was just putting a story together and knew little about the delicate craft. And because ignorance is bliss, I had a lot of fun creating a story that wouldn’t probably pass the quality check even if done by a 10-year-old reader.
This stage had several advantages, the major being the absolute lack of pressure. I had no real goal for this story for a couple of years, and even when I had some idea, I kept those goals vague. I avoided deadlines, avoided any kind of pressure on myself, and wrote when I had the time. With the early years being pretty much in complete secrecy, I could just create without wondering “what if something doesn’t work?”
When I knew I will, eventually, publish the book, things changed, but a lot of momentum still carried me forward. By the time the first book was out, I had a rough story for books two and three, allowing me to give hints here and there. I hope that will propel me to faster work on the sequels…
What changes with publication?
Some could say that there won’t be much pressure on someone like me – after all, if I include my 5 beta readers and myself, my book has been read by… a grand total of 8 people. Maybe 9. Yes, I haven’t given my book any major nudge yet – and the fact I wanted to avoid major outside pressure before the series is complete is just one of many reasons.
However, pressure can easily come from inside. Even my small group of beta readers are people I value a lot, and thus I want to make sure the story they read is as good as it can be – which pretty much contradicts itself given the purpose of a beta stage, especially the earlier stages. Getting stuck solving a minor issue (which could, maybe, be solved by a beta’s suggestion) had held up my work on the sequel a couple of times.
Given that I have drafted an early version of my story before the first book was published, I also had most of the truly creative work done. With the balance being heavily skewed towards revision and mechanical, not-as-creative work, burnouts were more frequent. And even though I have no real obligation to finish the sequel in a given time (another reason I haven’t tried to push the book yet, to avoid losing readers fed up with long waiting time), I still want to squish the gap – but when a major issue pops out, this can be really demotivating.
Furthermore, the beta stage is often out of your control. Your beta readers have their own life and their own priorities, and thus there will be many very legitimate reasons for them to take a break or slow down reading your story. This will, in turn, slow down your process, which may be frustrating especially as you can’t affect this. And if it comes when you feel inspired… it sucks twice as much if you have no other way to harness that rare moment of inspiration.
Further issues of free-time writing
Another aspect is that writing is still my free time activity. This means there are other things, often more important, that will take priority. Typically, my daytime job and taking care of my needs – and while I can be really pragmatic when it comes to shopping for food to save time, even a short delay may interrupt my flow of thoughts.
Likewise, this presents another challenge. If you have more hobbies, you’ll face choices about what to focus on in a given time. This may lead to neglecting one over another and finding a working sequence isn’t always easy. Even planned breaks may leave a bitter aftertaste – especially if it’s hard to get back for this reason or that.
That said, I would say that having writing as a free time activity has an advantage – if you’re stuck, it may be better to lose yourself in your daily job instead of staring at the wall hoping for inspiration or motivation to come.
The vicious cycle of perfectionism
A writer’s worst enemy is often the writer himself. I know there are writers who, after finishing a book, won’t ever read a single line of it again. And I certainly understand why they may be making that decision. However, I’ve decided to not do it, for a simple reason. The fact I’ve seen the story in several drafts, each a bit different, may make it hard to fact-check or continuity-check by memory.
Thus, I do re-read the finished book – select passage(s) or the whole thing – from time to time, especially when it’s a part of revisions. And each time, I do believe there are things that could’ve been better, even if it’s just changing one word in a sentence. Fortunately, I haven’t yet slipped into re-editing book one instead of working on the sequels, but I am not far from making a list of the major “offenses” and dealing with them when book two is ready, as I’ll need to edit the live file with the link to book two anyway.
That said, this may easily take over when you make major changes in a story, and need to often cross-check events within the current WIP, which had happened to me with the last draft as I rearranged the order of several events and was one of the reasons why this particular draft took almost 8 months.
All of the abovementioned may or may not happen, in whatever form, to any writer. Even avoiding publicity in the early stages won’t always be enough to avoid feeling under pressure to just work better and faster. And even with other activities thrown into the mix of my life, it’s not always easy to break out of the downs in the writing process, despite my best attempts.
So, if you’ve been through the same, you’re more than welcome to share your thoughts and experiences. They may not work for everyone the same, but they may be worth a try.
Closing note: there won’t be a monthly update for August – pretty much everything interesting is being covered in my hiking posts from my holidays while other hobbies were on hold.
Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts and processes, Tom. It’s always so interesting to read about what authors go through when writing. Us being our harshest critics is something I wholeheartedly agree with, and I’ve also published books I’ve never read again because I’m worried there will be so much I want to change. Writing is such a creative high that is crippled with a lot of lows, but if we push through, like you do, we ultimately become better at it. At least, that’s what I’m hoping 😊. Thanks also for linking to my blog post.
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Very insightful. I have a copy of my book, I considered reading it but haven’t so far. Now I think I might. Thanks for sharing.
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