One of the drawbacks of the surge in self-publishing is that too many writers have been allowed to believe an inspired work is also a publishable work. As a result, inspired works are too easily thrown into the market before they are publishable.
This is an easy slipping point for any writer. After all, inspiration is the fun part of writing. The juices are flowing, the ideas seem fresh, and words simply tumble out of the mind and onto the computer. A new story feels easy and exciting.
Inspiration brings its own euphoria, and as writers, we are anxious to share that euphoria with other people. It’s this same euphoria that gives us confidence in the tale we need to tell, that convinces us everyone is bound to love our characters and their stories as much as we do.
But at the end of the day, the inspired draft is also the first draft, and as Anne LaMotte has famously said, first drafts are always shitty. Not because we are poor writers, but because it’s the inalienable right of every first draft to be a bad piece of prose. This rule remains constant throughout the writer’s journey: No matter how many novels you’ve written, the first draft will always be crap.
“Got that,” you say?
You already know first drafts are shitty and would never presume to upload a first draft onto your KDP account?
Great! You’re now ready for the next hard truth of writing:
Second drafts are also shitty.
As are, more often than not, third drafts. By the fourth draft, you might have a quality piece of work in the making. But even then, your manuscript is not as good as it could be.
To compound the problem, by the fourth draft you’ve been spending so much time with the story, you cease to see areas that need improvement. Or – more frustrating – you know certain pieces still need fixing, but you can’t envision how to fix them.
This is where the six month hiatus comes in: An extended period where you put that manuscript away and focus on something else entirely, whether it be a new writing project or – if you’re feeling really adventurous – having a life outside of writing.
Doing this allows you to come back to the manuscript with the eye of a reader rather than an author. This is what I mean by “waiting until you’re clueless.”
As the author, you know everything about your story: the history of each character, their hidden motivations, the rules of the world they live in. An omniscient narrator can’t always judge how much information to give the reader and how much to hold back. But if you allow yourself to acquire the eye of a reader, it’s easier to fill in places where information is lacking and backpedal on moments when you’re bludgeoning the reader with the obvious.
Sometimes we choose the six-month hiatus; sometimes it’s forced upon us. In the case of The Hunting Grounds, I’ve done both. This latest novel has had multiple back-burner periods, first at my choosing, but most recently as a result of the query process itself.
My first bout of querying for The Hunting Grounds began about this time last year. I was mildly successful, in that I had several promising bites, a few requests for partials and fulls, and even a couple contract offers (which I decided to turn down, but more on that later).
In sifting through the scattered feedback of different editors (last year’s query effort was directed mostly at small- and medium-sized presses, as opposed to agents), I was able to identify some sticking points in the narrative. By spring of this year, I’d decided to go back to the drawing board and work through the manuscript one more time.
I don’t regret it. One year ago, The Hunting Grounds was a strong manuscript. If I were committed to the path of self-publishing, I might have released it on Kindle as early as October or November of 2016. But I chose to wait, to query, and to let things simmer.
Now, my novel is even better, with more depth and cleaner prose, and reworked in a way that addresses some of the feedback I’ve received from professionals in the field.
At the end of the day, there may not be a future for this novel on traditional markets, but I derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing my work realize its full potential. My days of inspired writing on this project are long gone, but the tedious process of crafting and molding and honing the details carries its own rewards.
Whatever road takes this manuscript to its final, published version, I’m more confident than ever that the finished novel will be everything it was meant to be.
And that, my friends, is well worth waiting for.