Chapter One… Manuscript Must Be Perfect
Writers who believe in the myth of traditional publishing also believe deeply in the myth that rewriting is good and that a manuscript must be perfect before you dare send it off to an agent.
Perfect, I say!! Perfect!
(I have never in my 40 plus years in publishing ever seen a perfect manuscript.)
So what happens is that years and years pass while the writer “Works on their book.”
Okay, come on, we all know a number of these writers spending years “working on their book.” And sadly, these writers are proud they are doing that and they will be glad to tell you they are doing just that every time they get the chance.
And yes, instead of writing being fun for these poor souls, the writing is torture and often avoided for long periods of time.
But for some reason, it is a rite of passage to be “working on a book.” All the time spent “working” makes the need to be anointed by a traditional publisher even more intense. The dream of being a rich, published writer during these “work years” just expands into a pathological need.
Where do so many people get this myth? Built into the school teaching that books are special, they are magical, and thus for any normal person to write one, they must work really, really hard at it.
As the years go by while they are “working on their book,” certain things happen.
— Rough drafts are often many and are mostly tossed away.
— Massive world building happens.
— There might even be character sketches with pictures of the characters cut out of magazines.
— The writer (after finishing the first draft) must then do five and six drafts of rewriting. Realize the beginning writer will no idea what they are doing to make a story better. As a professional writer friend of mine said about one of these multiple rewriters, they were basically stirring a pile of shit over and over. It’s still just shit.
Remember, these writers don’t believe in practicing. Rewriting is not practicing, it is moving words around because every word they write is brilliant and was “work” to get down.
Often the “idea” for the story that was so brilliant loses luster, but many, many writers stick to it. Often for years and years and years. Impressive amount of focus, just aimed totally wrong.
These kind of writers will invite all sorts of help from other beginning writers who have no idea what they are doing either. These beginning writers will gather and will read aloud parts of their book, workshop parts of their book.
The writer will then have a hundred beta readers read their book and, of course, try to put in everything everyone says. After that much help, no telling whose book it is or who even owns the copyright (something beginning writers don’t have a clue about.)
(I warned you in the introduction I would be snarky, remember?)
Then, after all that, they finish a manuscript and go spend thousands to hire someone who has never written a published novel to “book doctor” their manuscript. Then the writer will rewrite it once again to fix everything, every detail the scam book doctor suggests.
Eventually, after years, they will declare the book perfect and done and their family, if smart, will give them a party.
I got to admit, the concept of writing one story over and over and over for years and years and years is just completely alien to me. If I spend more than three weeks writing a novel, I feel I am doing something wrong.
But sadly, I have watched, talked to, and tried to help hundreds and hundreds of writers like I described above over the decades. I was never successful. The myths those writers were taught are so much a part of who they are, you can’t budge them.
And these words will not do so either.
Why do some of the bestselling writers tell their audiences that they did numbers of drafts?
A one-word answer…
Readers were taught all the “writing is special and hard” bull puck just as new writers were. And readers are the ones we want to plop their real money down and buy our work. So we writers must, when talking to readers, play into the myths.
Lawrence Block calls it “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.”
When I am talking to readers instead of writers, I say I write three drafts. I write a first draft, I spellcheck it, and I have Kris read it for typos and I fix those. Three drafts. So I don’t really lie, I just let readers believe what they want to believe. For example, I had a reader ask me how long it took me to write a Thunder Mountain Novel. I said I had been working on the entire series for years. That is true, I have been. I didn’t say it took me a few weeks to write that one specific novel.
Readers need to feel the writer worked for their money. We do. It takes us decades to learn how to write decent novels and stories that will entertain them. Years of practice and learning. We earned their few bucks.
So I talk about this sort of thing here. I have nothing to lose by not lying to writers. But many authors just build in the myth into their own work to sell copies. I sure don’t blame them. They are not responsible for the silliness of a writer taking years to write and rewrite a book.
Sadly, even though the book is done and the family party is over, for a writer who wants to sell to traditional publishing, the silliness is just starting. Next chapter: Agents and Query Letters.