A person wrote a question on a FB writers group the other day, asking what people do to celebrate finishing writing a book.
Most people said start the next one. I concurred. I do also allow myself the luxury of going off the deep end into a new TV series, or season I’m already addicted to.
Or a big novel, like The Count of Monte Cristo last year when I finished the first draft of The Ecology of Lonesomeness.
But it’s only the first draft. And I certainly don’t do anything like buy something to celebrate, or take my wife out to dinner. I don’t take her out to dinner to celebrate her own achievements, and they are much more impressive than mine, so why would I do it to celebrate what’s not an achievement, but more like a milestone on a journey, albeit a very significant milestone?
I do celebrate when the book is published. I splashed out on a bottle of scotch to celebrate Leaving the Pack, and bought myself a cool pen for the publication of Five Days on Ballyboy Beach. Absinthe seemed appropriate for JD Martins’ novella One Night in Madrid. For The Ecology of Lonesomeness another bottle of scotch is on the cards – but a better one, and for The Soul of Adam Short, I’ve no idea. I don’t need much (apart from lots of liquor, it seems).
That’s not the most important part of the process for me, though.
Framing a copy of the cover is special.
But not nearly so rewarding, really, as starting a new outline, a set of frantically scribbled notes as a new story unfolds in my head, complete with all it’s attendant glorious absence of logic.
But the best bit of all? That’s what I just did this week: signing a contract and getting to write the back cover blurb, the dedication and the acknowledgments.
I usually have a rough draft of the blurb written. If I didn’t, I couldn’t send submissions in the first place. But the dedication I get to do from scratch. I never write that until a book has somewhere to go. And I probably never will.
Each of my books, with one exception, is dedicated to someone different. I like to find someone appropriate given the theme of the story. My parents and my family are thus yet to see a dedication. But theirs is coming. I hope.
As for acknowledgments, I delight in writing those, too.
Writing is a lonely business. It has always been for me. I never got much in the way of encouragement from my close family or friends (some, I suspect, are merely putting up with me until I make some money at this game… but don’t tell her I told you so). The people who do lend me a hand, therefore, even when I have had to nearly wrench it off their shoulders in the first place, well deserve their mention.
I don’t know much about writing novels, but I know this. Counting words is a waste of time.
I have written six and a two half novels so far. Oh, and two novellas, which are a whole different kettle of fish.
I know how to write a novel because I’ve obviously done it before. But I don’t know anything about HOW I did it.
Nothing worth transmitting to others who might try to do it themselves.
Counting words is a load of bollox.
It doesn’t tell you shit about how much work you have done, how much of a novel you’ve already written, or, in anything but the vaguest terms give you an idea of the shitload of grafting you still have ahead of you.
I’ve read too many quotes saying that a thousand words a day will give you a novel in three months.
Such shite was perhaps written with the best of intentions, to encourage would-be writers to get their finger out of their arse and get something down on paper.
It seems so easy.
Write a novel in a month, they say every November. Fifty thousand words crafted, or cobbled together, anyway, and Bob’s your uncle: a novel under the belt.
Sure, there are a few great novels out there with scant word counts.
Ninety thousand words is a decent-sized book.
But is it your book?
Did those fifty thousand words spill out of the typewriter ribbon as such, or were they the last standing syllables of a Mongol horde of words that got massacred until they resembled a roman army in perfect discipline?
Did their author stick to a thousand words a day? Did he or she spend two weeks locked in a hotel room and thump upon the keys with his/her fingers twenty-five thousand times a day for ten says straight? Or sit with a pencil between his/her teeth for ten hours and get two hundred words down eventually, before breaking open a bottle of whisky at the end of the day?
Are ninety thousand words enough to tell the story that you need to tell? Or will two hundred thousand do it?
We create universes, us writers.
But just like this one we’re all condemned to share, if it was made by some superior being, once it was made it pretty fecking quickly got away from it’s maker. Your universe will expand to the dimensions it requires within a very short time of its inception.
And you can do nothing but watch, and oblige its demands by filling it up with the structures it needs, however many words that requires.
You might find that you have fifty thousand words of a mess that will require more than one month just to get straight in your head.
Happened to me, after a fashion.
The 70k half book I have now will turn into, as far as I can judge from what I have uncovered of the world I am creating, around 150k. Much of what I am writing will be deleted. Only after they are written, can I hope to cut out the words the story probably doesn’t need.
My shortest novel is 30,000 words. It’s a children’s book. My longest, so far, is 175K. Each book I have had published has been shaved down. There were parts that weren’t necessary. But I didn’t know that until I wrote them. Some of these I noticed myself, once they existed. They could disappear. Others I didn’t know about until they were pointed out. But in every one, the thousand words a day would not have led to a finished story in the simple multiple of days to the final word count.
The other half-novel is currently at around 200K. I have an estimation that it will end up at 400K. I have no idea whatsoever whether it will stay that way, or will get chopped in half. I only know I have many more words to write, but no notion of how long that process will take.
So, check out your word count, by all means. Just don’t think you’re halfway done if you have 45K written.
You might be nearly finished, or you might only be starting out.
The story will decide.
You can only obey the rules of the universe you have created, and give it all the space it requires, however many years that will take to do.
I recently wrote an article about sticking with writing over years of unsuccessfully trying to get published, and how, twenty years after writing my first novel, I got it published and had it followed up by the second, and now I have contracts for five books, including one published under a pseudonym.
It’s hard to maintain confidence in your ability: I often thought I’d never sell a book, but along the way there were confidence boosts now and then when a poem was published, and a few quid here and there, even, for a poem or an article. When I finally got a contract, after all the effort, it was gratifying and affirming of my small amount of talent, and I felt vindicated in keeping at it.
I’d made that giant leap into Authorship.
But getting a book on the market – professionally edited and with a great cover that I was able to have some input in the design of – was just one more step forward, it turned out. I thought it was a giant leap because of my previous perspective – or lack of it.
It’s like an animation video describing the scale of the universe. You make it to the moon and before you have time to appreciate the view, the camera pans back to show just how far away Mars is, and then Jupiter, and how small our solar system is.
The journey has only really begun. It’s just you’ve learned to walk and been given a decent pair of boots, is all.
The pressure is not off now; it just got more intense.
Apart from building a platform, blogging and posting and advertising, there’s the requests for reviews and the feeling you have to get big sales, to justify the confidence in your work – and to a certain extent you do. Instead of feeling you’re no good if you can’t get an editor interested, now there’s the feeling that you’re not good enough if you don’t see lots of sales. Friends ask if you’re making millions yet – often despite not having read it themselves: and who ever sold a million copies of a book that wasn’t good enough for friends to bother with?
The reviews are another source of stress. You want everyone to love the book of course, but it becomes a bit over the top: what once might have been worthy only of a place in a desk drawer or the farthest reaches of a hard drive, suddenly needs to deserve only five star reviews.
God forbid someone should give it less than three!
But they do – they did mine already.
You can’t please everyone, and even fans of the genre might be your biggest stumbling block – especially if you did something with they didn’t expect, that quirk, that novelty, which pleases 9/10 readers, just doesn’t float the last one’s boat. They might even feel hard done by when the book doesn’t match their expectations – however misconceived they might be.
But the long term is what we have to look to again – just as before publication. Over the long haul, more will like it than not, and hopefully they’ll tell their friends. There will be reviewers who say they’re delighted to read a new slant, who believe your characters are great.
Nevertheless, in my short and scant experience, these great readers and reviews don’t do as much to put things in perspective as the old friends or colleagues who congratulate you and say they’re jealous of you. When you humbly tell them that you’re not making those millions, they shake their head and insist that they’re not jealous of you publishing, but of the fact that you actually wrote a novel: that you finished your shit, and polished it well enough that anyone would read it.
And that’s one of the things we need to keep in mind as we go to the next project, and keep blogging and advertising, and seeking more reviews. It’s a struggle uphill (hope Bjork doesn’t have that phrase copyrighted), but the fact we’re plodding ahead is something we need to be proud of.