Let me explain.
For posterity, I thought I’d share what the final editing and getting ready to query stage has been like for me. If you’re a new writer, you may want to grab a martini. If you’re an experienced author, you will be laughing at me, like a frat boy with a new recruit during hazing. Sorry that it’s not a prettier picture this close to the holidays.
First, I’m a huge believer in balance. Mind-Body-Soul. So what? It meant nothing that I believed that. There’s little balance when your novel gets to this stage. No joke, 3AM and I are buddies.
I’ll digress a moment. About a year ago my husband wrote to Dean Koontz about something. And, from what we’ve since learned is characteristic for the thoughtful Mr. Koontz, the author not only responded personally via USPS but also sent a signed copy of one of his books. Koontz didn’t know that my husband’s wife was an aspiring novelist for whom his example and his personal note (and signed book) had lasting impact. He’s known to be a write-aholic, loving what he does. Therefore, when he wrote in his note that he was finishing up final edits for a novel, working 12, 14 or more hours per day – I was very impressed, but felt safely “other” – that was Dean Koontz’s gig. That would never happen to me, I’m just not the type.
Until the time came for some final editing of my own. Working a normal workday time-wise, that is my type. I think a 6-7 hour day of writing and a couple more for the business side of writing is plenty. Fine and dandy, if you can get it done in that amount of time! Turns out, I didn’t know, and am sad to say, I’m not that type.
That leads me to the next, obvious, conclusion. If you’re anything like me, your first novel won’t afford you the luxury of balance because for one thing, you’ll start to see the very first finish line in your novel writing life. Very exciting. And then there’s the second thing. Aspiring writers sacrifice some thing(s) to pursue this dream – whether it’s not spending as much time with family and friends, or living on a painfully pared down budget, or forgetting that one doesn’t live in Norway (not that I wouldn’t love to visit that beautiful country) but hey, I hear Pennsylvania does have daylight in winter. Not that I would know, I’m only out in it a couple times a week these days. Exercise? Shop and prepare healthy meals? HA again, on both counts. Yes, I force myself to workout when I need an Advil for my neck, bent toward a computer all day or when I get up – and standing up straight is negotiable. I also now keep healthy portable foods and water in my bag or near my desk. Since forgetting to eat hours on end or asking my husband to get fast food on the way home wasn’t doing much for me or my writing.
Wow. Pretty pathetic in black and white – you get the picture.
Somehow, you come through this “it’s like finals in college, on steroids, that won’t end” time. I’m not entirely there yet. But I can see the small changes already. While doing some smaller rewrites and running a find-replace for yet another word – I actually noticed it was raining (last Friday) and I took time to look up a restaurant review for yes – an actual excursion.
I found a yelp reviewer in the Philly area who really got my attention with his review. Whatever this guy does, he should be a professional writer. His reviews had a fun, real voice. He used regular doses of “effin this . . . wtf that . . . and all out – fucking blah blah,” which to my surprise, worked. Really well.
My 160,000 word novel serves up the “Oh, my gosh” variety. You can see why insecurity set in. “Josh (one of my characters) should say a “wtf” here or there – come on, Maria,” I said, rebuking myself. To which I protested that in a novel with “gosh” being the shock word of choice, any sprinkled in salty, if you will, terms, would ring discordant. Horribly so. You have to commit to certain character traits from the beginning of the novel to let it all fit together or it won’t work. Following, ensued a couple hours of (un)necessary consideration about rewriting his entire personality! “So,” I observed, after going in circles, “this is what it’s all come down to . . . wtf . . . or not.”
By the way, lest ye judge, if you have a proclivity for language more colorful than I, wait until you go through the same grind with worrying about the opposite. Every writer wonders at some point if we’re showing our characters as they are. It’s a valid concern. Without experience and practice, I’m not sure that anyone can confidently answer that it’s the latter. I can say I came close, but would have liked more for my characters. This taught me a lesson that helped me near the completion of my novel. After grappling with my Josh crisis I came to realize as the creator of these “people” – it was time to let go. Let them be who they turned out to be. My long editing efforts turned a corner.
At the very least, that moment of clarity got me to carry on past my crisis. It’s our poor, tired, overworked self talking when we find ourselves too confused to decide an issue this late in the novel writing process.
If you’re questioning things in your book (or whatever your business endeavor) ask yourself, could it be better? Probably, in most cases, the answer is yes. If so, figure out what specifically would make it better. Next, write a plan to get there and go.
However, another, oft overlooked question to ask when you are looking at the (almost) finished product – could it be worse? If you can answer, that yes, it really could be – it may mean, that deep down, you think it’s pretty okay. In answering this question honestly, I knew my novel, in fact, was not bad. It may sound strange that I can be this committed to something that is just “not bad”. Writers out there know, however, that feeling that it’s “not bad” is actually a hopeful conclusion!
Experiencing overwhelm after any intense project is also the normal sign that we need a break. Simple as that. If possible – please leave your project alone even a week at this juncture. Give your mind and body a break. It is the healthiest thing to do.
Me? No. I won’t be doing that.
There is another option. Put it into perspective and be reasonable. Yes – you can be. Querying or self-publishing are like any project with a deadline, that’s all. The art of writing is more intricate. After months of editing, getting your novel dressed up and out the door, less so. On the front end, and for a long time afterwards, you do the research and do the time. It’s the same with the launching of any business or even something like planning a wedding. At the end, it’s different. We sometimes choose non primary things to focus on, but it won’t come down to adding in wtf’s, but, rather . . . asking yourself if this is true love. Is this the business you planned and you believe is what you were meant to do? Or for me (and you, if you’re a writer) – is this the book?
If the answer is yes – then ready or not, get down the aisle . . . introduce yourself to your client base or . . . take a deep breath, review your query letter and wtf – press send.