Writing is like playing Monopoly – you can’t afford the rent and now and again you get to collect a couple of hundred bucks, which is instantly wiped out by an unexpected bill. No, wait, what I meant was, they both take a very long time. (Except when I was a kid, when after about an hour of playing Monopoly a full-scale war would break out.)
Writing is a very long game.
Learning to write takes a long time.
Of course there are people who pop up out of nowhere with the first book they every wrote and it becomes a bestseller. These people are like plane crashes. No, not because they cause others much grief and anguish, but because they are news. They are unusual. For every plane crash there’s who knows how many car crashes you never hear about. And for every “massive hit with first book they wrote” writers, there’s a thousand other writers toiling away learning their craft.
The term “first novel” is often very misleading. A writer may have a load of other novels tucked away in drawers, or that were fanfic, or that for some other reason were never submitted for publication. Some people contemplating the writing life feel bad about this. They feel bad when they hear the adage that you have to write a million words before you’ll be good enough to publish. Or write for 50,000 hours or say 10,000 Hail Mary’s or something. They think that if all those words are never going to earn them any money, then what’s the point? Aren’t they wasted?
No, they’re not. No time spent writing is ever wasted. Not even if you lose or delete what you wrote afterwards! You learned something while writing it. Even if what you learned was what not to do, that’s a lesson you need to learn.
Writing takes a long time.
Writing takes a really long time. I don’t just mean the actual drafting of a story. That can go pretty fast. We NaNoWriMo enthusiasts know just how fast you can write a draft if you put your mind to it. But the whole process, start to finish, takes a long time. Maybe you don’t spend a lot of time on planning and outlining, prefer to fly by the seat of your pants? Don’t think that will shorten the time. People who aren’t outliners are more likely to be multi-drafters. They don’t do less work, they just move it to the revision and editing stage.
Research might take a long time. World building the background of your story if you need to do that. Many writers like to let a novel sit for a while before they come back to it after the draft is done. I’ve left things for close to a year before. And editing. Oh, boy, editing is the longest stage of the lot for me – even though I’m an outliner. For me the draft makes the story and the characters exist and the editing makes them look as good as I can make them. It’s a tough stage, you have to be hard on yourself, your story and your characters. Plenty of editing time can be taken up simply by agonising about eliminating a line of dialogue you love.
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
~ Oscar Wilde
Publishing takes an insanely long time.
Those of us who come from a background of writing fan fiction do not have to have a lot of patience when it comes to the “publishing” side. We might spend a long time on the writing and polishing, but as soon as we are ready to release that story into the wild – bam! It’s there, up on a website, right to the audience. Before we know it, we’re getting feedback. It’s heady stuff and easy to get addicted to. I’m sure the same thing drives many self-publishing authors. They look at the time it takes to get a book from submission to publication and say “screw that”, they want their books out there now, earning them money. The first part of that is easy. The second? Not so much for most.
But conventional publishing isn’t like that. It takes a long time to get an agent or publisher. Months, years even. This is possibly the most frustrating stage of the lot. Your story is done, you’ve made it as good as you can and now you want to share it with the world, but nobody seems to want to help you do that. But let’s say you are persistent and at last a publisher says yes, they want to buy your story. There’s still a long way to go. You’ll have to do edits with the publisher, several rounds of them. Meanwhile all sorts of things are going on behind the scenes at the publisher, to get your book out, and they all take time.
In small press epublishing this doesn’t take as long as in more traditional and print publishing houses, where it can take months and months, maybe more than a year between you getting a contract and your book coming out. But even with small presses, it still takes a long time. And if the book is in print in bookshops you’ll be waiting for a while for your royalties too. Even if being a writer does make a lucky few rich, it was never quickly!
So cultivate patience. Not only for the sake of your fingernails, not only for the sake of your mental health, but because impatience makes you vulnerable.
It makes you start to look for the magic door into publishing, the secret password you think is being denied to you. And that makes you crazy. It makes you try mad things to be discovered that will in the end probably be counterproductive. And it leaves you vulnerable to exploitation from others. Everyone knows writers are desperate for publication and there’s one thing salesmen and scammers love, it’s desperation. It’s sad to read of writers ripped off by scam agents, publishers and contests that are only interested in extracting money from a writer. The writers who fall for them aren’t stupid, they’ve let impatience and desperation blind them to the red flags. They think they’ve found the magic door! The shortcut!
There is no shortcut. If you want to make money quick, choose something other than writing. But if you are a writer and nothing will stop you writing, than refocus your eyes on the horizon and accept that this is a long game. Complaining about how long is all takes is as much use as complaining that rain is wet. Yes it is. That’s not going to change. It’s the nature of the thing.
Be patient. You’ll get there in the end.