How do you know when a novel – or short story, for that matter – is finished?
At what point should you stop tinkering, put down the quill, lean back in your overstuffed armchair and say to yourself “Right, done! Now to publish”?
The greatly-missed Iain Banks once said:
Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. If you try to polish every sentence there’s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.
You can hear the years of experience in the quote – there speaks a man who learnt the hard way. Because, of course, we all want to publish the most perfect book we possibly can. And we’re artists, so there’s always a different way to express something, a fancier adjective, a more elegant turn of phrase, a slicker exposition…
Well hello there Internet, how splendid to be back! Please say you missed me, or there may be the most frightful scene.
I have, as the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have observed, been away. I could spin you a sordid yarn of diamond-smuggling and a brief sojourn in a hellish Peruvian jail, but the truth is far more prosaic. I lost my voice. Not in a “warm brandy, kitten round the neck” sort of a way. No, that would have been far more enjoyable.
The Blogger’s Worst Nightmare
In what must surely be the worst professional catastrophe which can befall writers and bloggers, I found myself with nothing to say and no means of saying it. Inspiration dried up so entirely that even the trusty old standby methods of finding post inspiration failed. Moreover, whenever I attempted to write, the words came out flatter than a Friday-night karaoke bar. No fun, no lightness, no substance, no purpose. None of that which regular readers have been kind enough to say they enjoy in my writing. Which led me to thinking…
OK, so here’s the thing about marketing yourself as a writer on the interwebz.
It’s bloody hard work.
Hemingway famously said:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
And he never had to use Twitter.
So Who Made You The Expert Then?
“Ah yes,” you may be thinking sagely, “but just who are you, young whippersnapper, to deign to tell me how to promote myself or my novel online? What makes you such a guru eh?”
Ah, that most vexatious of subjects – “show, don’t tell.” Advice which is bandied about liberally yet which writers, particularly those newer to the craft, often struggle to comprehend. I speak from experience – it took me years to get my head around the difference between showing and telling.
Yet, like riding a bike or juggling hamsters, it’s a skill which, once learned, will never desert you. Today I offer some examples which I hope will serve to clearly illustrate the difference and give you a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to showing versus telling.
OK, let’s start with a bit of telling shall we?
Lord Farnsworth bustled toward the Orangery. The night air was cold and a light rain was falling.
So far, so factual. A clear description of the weather, very useful if you yourself are planning to go for a walk and wondering if you need your trusty brolly. But it’s not particularly compelling is it? In fact, it’s rather dreary. Much like the weather afflicting his Lordship.
Anyone with eyes or friends can hardly have failed to notice that this week marks Facebook’s 10th birthday.
If you’re anything like me (and I do hope you are, you lucky people you) then your timelines will have been inundated with My Facebook films. If, at this point, you’re asking “what’s Facebook and what’s a timeline?” then your Author Marketing Plan is #failing #abysmally. Much like hashtags on Facebook really.
One ring to bind them
Yes, this week we’re all awash in personal lookbacks over the past however many years we’ve been sharing our lives online. Top-rated photos, most-liked posts and sundry other reminiscences all rolled up into a one-minute-five-second film encapsulating what FB regards as our most notable assets.
So, I hear you wondering aloud, what has any of this got to do with writing?
In my previous post, The Unicycle Of Prevarication, I explored how we indie authors often self-saboutage by “not being able to find the time” to write. This, despite the multitude of less pleasurable things we do find the time for, such as cleaning the moat or milking the peacocks.
Today, I intend to lay bare the One True Secret of how to find the time and motivation to write even when the odds seem stacked against you like handcarts against the barricades.
But first, I feel I need to issue a warning.
WARNING: You’re not going to like the answer.
You see, there genuinely is an answer to the eternal problem and it’s one that I’ve learned the hard way over the five years in which I’ve been occasionally toying with, and occasionally grafting at, my first novel. Are you ready to find out what it is? Excellent. But first, please put down any sharp objects you may be holding, as I don’t wish to find myself impaled.
Here goes then…
You have to force yourself.
I said you wouldn’t like it, didn’t I?
“No, really, I DO want to write, I just haven’t had the time!”
How often has that line played out in your head? If you’re anything like me, probably around 1000 times a week I’d guess. And that’s on the quiet weeks.
We want to write in exactly the same way we want to go to the gym, or train for a run, or learn to unicycle. They’re all things that, once we’re actually in the process of doing them, we enjoy. But they also have one other factor in common – it takes a great deal of effort and commitment to start doing them instead of doing something easier instead.
Here’s a perfect example: this weekend I was absolutely, definitely going to commit at least one hour to my current novel. I did it last weekend and it felt amazing. Only, this weekend, I also had to take the cat to the vet. And then hit the sales to buy a new pillow (there’s no stopping the rock ‘n’ roll some days, I tell you!) Oh yes, then to the supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner, followed by creating a pie for the aforementioned repast. By which time it was 8pm, I was tired, hungry and there was some mindless TV on.