Photo by Corey Harmon
A debut novelist wrote to me the other day about his manuscript. I had first "met" this author a year ago through email. A friend of a friend. The email he sent me back then, I've received many times over, albeit from other writers.
I've even sent that same email myself, years before I published my first book.
The letter goes something like this:
I wrote a book. I've never done this before. I had this idea. It took me forever. It took years. It took blood, sweat, tears and a divorce (not really a divorce, but let's just say everyone sacrifices something in the process). I don't know if it's any good. I don't know if anyone would ever read it. I don't know if I'm wasting my time. Maybe I should just stop. Maybe this is silly. Who would ever want to publish this? Who'd ever want to read this? I'm ignoring my friends. I can't find an agent. I can't find a publisher. People tell me it's too long. I've cut it to the bare bones. I can't cut anymore. Can I? I can't. When do I know if I'm finished? I just cut some more. Hmm, this is pretty good. I can't take any more feedback! Change the ending?! Cut the beginning?! I can't do this anymore. I'm depressed. This sucks. I give up! Should I give up? I buried it in the backyard. I can't look at it again. It's over.
Writing a book is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
This is my reply to this debut novelist (yes, everyone is always surprised to be called a novelist, but I'd like to remind you that's what you are if you've written a novel) and everyone who's sent me this email:
You've done the hard part. You had an idea and you turned it into a book. Congratulations! That's a big deal. There are not many people who can do that. Okay, so it's too long. Or, you've used too many adverbs. Or, too much telling and not enough showing. Or repetition. Or too much description. Or, it still has some boring parts. Or, it's still missing something. So what? Did you expect to write it perfect the first time? Don't give up now. You wrote the thing. The hardest part about writing a book is staring at the blank page. Pen in hand. Poised in the air. Trembling. Mind vacant. Mouth open. Drooling. (Okay, maybe not drooling, but for Pete's sake close your mouth.) Writing is hard. It's a slog fest. But, you have words on the page now. Black on white, baby! I can tell you from experience that it's much harder to edit just white.
So put on your big girl panties (unless you're a guy) and finish this out. Get it in the best shape you can. You owe yourself that respect. Do it one page at a time. Each page is a victory and deserves a happy dance. And a margarita. Okay, maybe not a margarita after every page, but I do believe you should reward yourself. (Just ask my kids who still tease me about my potty training methods of rewarding them with one M&M every time they used the bathroom. Yes, it was a bit chintzy, but it worked!)
So make a deal with yourself. Go straight to the backyard and dig it out of the ground where you buried it last September, and dust it off. Read the first page and edit it. You will not need to reward yourself after the first page because you will be so freaking pumped that you are taking the first step toward not giving up on yourself, that it will propel you to edit page two. You will need a reward soon because it will get hard fast. That's okay. One page at a time. Dig deep. It will feel good. Like the good pain of a 20-minute ab workout when all you really want to do is eat a cupcake.
Nothing will feel as good as the last page, and when you get there I will do a happy dance with you (in spirit, of course). That's the time to enlist the help of a professional editor. Turn it over to someone who will continue to sculpt it in the most flattering ways. And there will be no looking back. Only looking forward. Good luck, I believe you can do it!