Patience in Writing Pt.1
"I want to get published NOW."
"I want to write faster."
"I want to be a bestseller NOW."
"I want an agent NOW."
These are phrases I hear all the time, and ones I've been guilty of saying myself. And when people ask me how to get published fast, or write fast, or sell books fast, I typically give a quick response in which I say that everyone has different ways of measuring success, and no one way is better than any other, and that it takes time to reach our goals and make our dreams come true.
As much as I love helping new writers, I hate when people ask about writing FAST, and getting published FAST, because the truth is, that's not how it should be.
I speak from experience.
And so, today, we're going to talk about slowing down. We're going to talk about the value of taking time to write and hone our craft. We're going to talk about patience.
And to get to that point, we're going to have to take a quick look back at my journey to publication.
I signed my first book contract when I was 19 years old.
Well, truthfully, it was the last day of my 19th year. I wanted to sign the contract before midnight, because as soon as the clock struck 12, I knew I'd no longer be a teenager. And that was always my goal. Be published as a teenager. I'm going to do it, I said, before I turn 20.
And somehow, I actually did.
Most people assume that an author's journey to publication is quick. Easy peasy. You write a book, pounding out the words on the keyboard in a few months' time, and all those words are magic, and then you sit down and think "What publisher do I want to publish this book?" You go to the bookstore, pick up one of your favorite books, see who published it, decide that's the one I want to make me famous! You go home, send them your manuscript, and then, VOILA! They agree to publish you, and then your book hits stores in a few months.
That sounds amazing, right?!
It's not what happens! Let me repeat that---it is NOT how things work! Not in traditional publishing. Ask any author who's signed on that dotted line.
It's a journey---different for every writer and every book---and it takes a crap-ton of time.
At 18, I wrote a book called CHANGED. My first book ever, a dystopian about teens with "magical" abilities, and I'll admit, it was basically The Hunger Games and Divergent with a brand new name on the cover. There was a test to determine personality traits. There were "sectors." There was an arena. There was a girl with a bow.
Katniss became a girl with blonde hair, and Peeta became a guy with brown hair, and wow, it was so bad. You guys. It was AWFUL.
But it was my first book, and my dream was to be able to walk into a Barnes&Noble, see my book on the shelf, in hardcover, and then purchase it. In order to do that, I wanted to go with traditional publishing. That meant finding a literary agent who could help me get there.
So, after I completed this masterpiece of a first novel, (at 125,000 words, which is WAY big for a debut YA book, mind you), I went to a writer's conference in Dallas. There, over one weekend, I met about 8 agents, all of which requested fulls of my manuscript because I charmed them with my elevator pitch that I had slaved over in the weeks leading up to the con.
After it was all over, I was riding high. I couldn't believe I'd just met all these awesome agents. Many authors hold them on a pedestal as the gods who give us the keys to all of our publishing dreams, and many from the con wanted to read MY book! I went home, fixed a few minor plot points, and then I sent it out to the 8 agents who'd requested to read CHANGED.
I got 8 rejections, all within about a month. I specifically remember, after the final agent from the con had rejected my manuscript, that I thought to myself, "What the heck?! They're all stupid. This book is gold."
So I got on a website called Querytracker.net.
I sent out more query letters through email, to every single agent I could find that represented YA science fiction. 112 total agents, to be exact, and who knows if all of them were reputable. I just wanted that contract. I wanted to have an agent SO bad, that it literally hurt. I had just met all these amazing published authors at a conference that had REAL agents! Real contracts!! They had super cool conversations with their super cool agents, and they were totally professional, and I WANTED THAT SO BAD FOR MYSELF.
The wanting was the hardest part, and perhaps the most evil thing for my mental state of mind during that time. Over the course of about 6 months, I got 120 total rejections for CHANGED.
I'd tried everything. I'd revised and resubmitted. (Revising, at the time, meant changing little tiny things again, such as character appearances and a few dialouge lines, and a few settings. Maybe adding in a few more kisses or fight scenes, but nothing deep. Nothing meaningful).
I was crushed. I felt as if someone had ripped my heart from my chest and then, quite literally, crapped all over it. And then lit it on fire. With a Molotov Cocktail.
Writers, if you've experienced rejection, YOU UNDERSTAND THIS PAIN. You understand how it feels to put yourself out there, because each book you write is a part of your heart and soul. And when people reject it...you feel like you've been dumped. By, like, the hottest guy ever.
Later that year, I did end up writing a book called THE MURDER COMPLEX (which sold and is in stores now, yayayayay!). And I did the right thing with that book. Partially. (more on that later!)
But looking back at my journey with CHANGED, I know what I did wrong.
And here is where MOST writers go wrong, too.
So pay attention: here's the kicker.
Writers---we are often far too impatient with our dreams. We don't give ourselves enough time to grow and develop and make sure we're giving it all we've got, because we see that end goal: and many times, we jump through hoops while they're still flaming. We don't give them time to settle and cool before making the leap.
We have dreams too large for our own creative, sensitive hearts, and we want to reach those dreams SO BADLY that we rush, rush, rush, without thinking of the consequences.
For me, the rushing meant that I sent that first book out WAY too fast. I wrote it in a flurry of inspiration and excitement and dreams. I sent it to a few friends to read, did teeny tiny edits over the course of a week, and then tossed it out into the abyss.
I didn't take TIME.
I didn't edit enough. I didn't slow down. I didn't put away my book, let my head clear, and then come back to look at it with an editor's eye. I overlooked the importance of patience, of honing my craft. When I finally wrote THE MURDER COMPLEX, (and later, BALANCE KEEPERS, my Middle Grade fantasy series), I spent time on them. I made sure they were good, before sending them to my agent. I made sure they were books that would make more than just my mother proud. They reflected my soul.
I took time with these books---but then, once it was time for the sequels to be turned in to my editors at Harper--- the rushing came back.
I'm admitting that now. I'll write more on that later, but the point of this post is that I'm guilty of sprinting side by side with you. Since I was 19, I've done this. I've run this race so fast that I've burnt out, run out of steam, and now I'm picking up the pieces. Slowly.
Take away this, from Part One:
Writing, getting published, and ensuring that you have a long, successful carrer is not a sprint.
It's a marathon.
And if we learn to slow down, the real dream, the one that ends with success, actually comes faster than we may realize.
Stay tuned for next week, when I write Part 2.