Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Not All Story Drafts Are Novel Material

I've always loved watching old TV shows. One of my favorites is I Love Lucy. The other day I watched an episode entitled Lucy Writes a Novel. Naturally, Lucy tries to write a novel. She eagerly writes a draft about the her life and that of her friends and sends it off to a publisher. She awaits the publishing of her first book...and ends up getting rejected. She declares that that the publishers were thick-headed men who were keeping back her masterpiece from the world. I started thinking about the episode later that day, and ended up thinking about the many new authors I've seen eagerly wanting to publish their books, and their denial, like Lucy's, when told their book shouldn't be published.

We've all been there. If you're a writer, you've surely experienced the point where you know what good fiction is and you love good fiction, but what's coming out of your pen isn't good fiction. It's worse when you think what you're writing is good fiction...but it's not. Sometimes the idea is great, but the draft is horrible. For instance, I have one old draft of a story that I really wanted to publish when I began it. When I started it, I thought the writing was brilliant. By the time I finished it, however, the first pages made me blush at how bad they were. It took me a while to get through the phase where my writing was sub-par at best, but by then, I was aware of the fact that my writing needed major work. But in so many cases, writers give up or wind up crashing and burning because someone tells them that their book needs work to be published and they, like Lucy, declaim the critic as a thick-minded fool keeping a masterpiece from the world.

News flash: some drafts just aren't meant to be published. If someone tells you that your book isn't ready to be published, that it needs to be rewritten, etc...they're not trying to be mean. They're not saying you can't ever be a writer. Many times, they're seeing something you can't because of your closeness to the work. They see mistakes you made that can be fixed with a lot of hard work. It's hard to reconcile yourself to the fact that the long draft you just finished needs to be rewritten...again. I say this right in the middle of yet another rewrite of book one of the Condemned Patriot series...which still needs a ton of work before anyone outside my family can read it. Some stories take a while to be written. And if you're a newer writer, the stories are going to take even longer to get right. But that's really okay. It's okay not to be ready for publishing right now. I'm not ready for publishing. That doesn't mean I'm not an author. That doesn't mean you're not an author. Being an author means more than just getting your first book out there. Being an author is the wisdom of knowing when to rewrite and when to just edit. It's listening to everyone's advice even if it's hard to hear. Being an author means sacrificing and killing your darlings and rewriting as many times as your book needs it because that's the career you've dedicated yourself to. If you want to be published, people assume you are trying to be an author, not just a writer. Don't shoot down the critics that are treating you like an author. They are working towards the goal of getting good fiction out into the world. And being an author, published or otherwise, means that needs to be your goal, too. 

So dear Lucy Ricardo and all you other new writers out there trying to be authors... Your first draft is not ready to be published. Your first book probably isn't either. I know, it's exciting to be a writer, and it's hard to resist the urge to jump into publishing as soon as possible. But being published means making a commitment to be an author, not just a writer. And the only thing that turns you into an author is hard work and perseverance and lots and lots of writing...and rewriting. It's okay for right now to just write and learn and grow in writing. The people telling you to wait to be published want to see you as an author just as much as you do. But they understand that being an author, a real author, means sometimes doing the hardest thing of all...listening.

So just keep writing better drafts. Write a bunch of different stories. Rewrite your drafts. Get a bunch of feedback from the people around you. One day you'll be ready to publish, and when you get there, it'll be all the sweeter for waiting. Don't give up and don't get angry at the people who tell you your book shouldn't be published. With a lot of sweat, hard work, and perseverance, you'll have a finished, publishable novel...one day.

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