I’m not a published writer. I may never be. But I do my homework.
Every single published writer who’s taken the time to stick up a blog or an “about my writing process” page that I’ve read all say the same thing: there is no such thing as a perfect draft. Therefore, I get really vexed when someone says “oh hey, I’ve written a story!” and they hand it to me and say “I wrote it last month. It’s perfect.” Bgah. It’s not.
And this is where I need to stop and clarify: there’s no such thing as a bad story. But just because you have a good story doesn’t mean that your writing is up to snuff. You can be a master storyteller on your first try, but that sure as heck doesn’t mean that your book is ready to go to the publisher on the first run. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Seriously, I’m not a professional editor, either, but there are reasons why my peers have always given me their “stuff” to edit. I’m an avid reader. I read books objectively. Good story, love this character, this one’s flat, a couple blaring grammatical errors in chapter three. It’s not a good book or a bad book, and if you ever hear me use those words, it is reflecting my opinion of the story and whether or not I, personally, enjoyed it. Well-written and poorly written, on the other hand, are a completely different can of worms.
If I tell you that you shouldn’t be capitalising your colours, for example, it’s not because I’m trying to take away your creative license or make you look bad. It’s simply that your creative license only extends as far as content goes, and you cannot change the rules of the language. Seriously, I know. I regularly spell things in British English (did you see the “u” in “colour” up there?) but I live in New Hampshire and I darned well know better than to stick that in anything short of something like this – a blog entry that will account to nothing. On my own time, I spell “a lot” as one word, and that’s all fine and good, until I want something published. If I’m too self-centered to change the spelling to something that is proper American English before sending it out to an agent, then I’m just wasting the agent’s time. Grammar, same deal. For real, people.
Sometimes – okay, a lot of the time – I’m pretty snobby about my own writing. I love my characters, I really want Jacob and Jessica to remain mortal enemies, not people-who-hate-eachother-at-first-and-then-fall-desperately-in-love. However, as much as I may defend my point in the beginning, I think that you’ll often find that when I go back and change things, I really do change things. I say this because I want to make a point: I practice what I preach. I have been writing and rewriting the same story for the last ten years, and last year, I bloody finally finished the manuscript. Note that word: manuscript. Not book. I haven’t finished the book. The book isn’t finished until it’s bound and has a publishing house insignia on the side. When I draft, I don’t just fix things. I rewrite. So when I mark up someone’s manuscript (ah! That word again!) I don’t expect the writer to do anything more than I do.
And, seriously, that being said, if you think that I’m harsh to you, you should see this page that I’m looking at right now of my own manuscript. I think I’ve got something scribbled about every third word.
So, yes, you can write a very slow book (see “John Green”) or a very fast book (see “Stephen King”). Your proliferation depends on who you are. But in the end, only about 5% of that finished manuscript is going to be gold. You know what that means? That means 95% is rubbish. Take the advice or leave it; it’s not my advice. It’s wisdom I grabbed from John Green, from Laurel K. Hamilton, from Tamora Pierce, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem, but all five of them are published and successful. Shout “but that book totally sucks!” as many times as you like, but clearly millions of people disagree with you. These people are doing something right.
Dunno about y’all, but I’m going to put my lot in with them.
So, here I go. Draft X of Chapter Six of Fate, here I come.