“To publish or not to publish?” has been quite the subject of late given the self-publishing revolution. However, maybe what we should really talk about is to write or not to write.
I hear this story pretty much weekly: “I want to write a book, but every time I start it sounds stupid. I can’t be like you and just pound stuff out.”
I wish there were some truth to that statement. Sadly, if you really believe that writers can just pound out one beautifully crafted sentence after another, you’ve seen too many episodes of Castle.
Writers are daring people. We understand that we’re putting ourselves out there publicly when we hit the publish button. However, we get to that point because we know the big secret: Self-esteem. You know the saying about if anything comes easily it’s not worth doing? If writers subscribed to that theory, the vast majority of books would never have been written.
Every writer will tell you that first drafts are absolutely horrific! This goes beyond bad grammar and typos. A first draft will contain storylines with holes and underdeveloped characters. Details that the writer thought were added will have been omitted. Most likely, a first draft will be all over the place and make a little sense, even to the writer. This is why many people abandon writing projects early on.
TV shows like Castle and Murder She Wrote depict authors who type words that flow off of the page without a single error of typo. As viewers, we don’t consider that behind that scene was a writer who struggled with those words, writing draft after draft, until the perfect sentences were crafted. While it is possible they nailed those two profound sentences Doogie Houser typed on the first try, it is more likely that they played with it five times to ensure the voice was right. You will never know because the magic of Hollywood is for the viewer not to see the struggle.
My first book, Love’s Forbidden Flower, was drafted in just over a month. 130,000 words in about 40 days, yet it wasn’t published until nearly one year later because first drafts are always horrible. Not only had I written things that didn’t make sense, I had so many words that Herman Melville would have been envious. If anyone were to read that first draft, and Lord knows I would never let them, they would be appalled. It took me three attempts at playing with the voice and point of view before I was satisfied. Three drafts! Granted I didn’t rewrite the entire book each time, but one time I came pretty close. Eventually 130,000 words of babbling was not cut but reshaped down to 93,000.
Some story changes happened after I went through my first round of beta readers. After my second round of beta I was still adding details to enrich the story. The whole process felt like it took forever, but it was absolutely freaking worth it! If I had given up hope when I saw how bad the first draft was, Love’s Forbidden Flower never would have seen the light of day, and all those letters I get from people saying that I have changed their world view never would have happened.
The moral is to never lose faith in your abilities. Keep pushing.