‘When is it ready?’ is the ultimate question for anyone trying to create something, be it a song, a painting, a sculpture made entirely of bread-sticks, or even a story.
The answer to this is: never. That’s right. Nothing is every finished, but it can be ‘good enough’. Everything you’ve ever absorbed through whatever media has been pushed out because it’s ‘good enough’, not because it’s done in the eyes of the creator.
That sounds really cynical – but let me explain. There are countless writers out there writing and rewriting stories that will never see the light of day. Editing is vital, obviously, but I have to wonder whether in these cases the writer simply doesn’t want to let go of their creation. It’s like being an over protective parent – you have to let your baby grow up and go out into the world. That child has to make mistakes in order to become better – a story has to be exposed to the eyes of strangers in order for the author to learn from it.
Why am I talking about this? Because Death Echo: Vol.1 was an exercise in getting something out there. It was also an exercise in editing, which was helped by the relatively low word count of each story. I couldn’t have gotten through it without all the people who came forward to test-read my work.
Vol.2 is a different beast. Having listened to feedback I wanted to make the stories longer – not massively so, just a little meatier. This has slowed the process down, and getting beta-readers will be vital in order to create the story collection I envision.
The worst thing I could do is release a volume with shoddy stories. I mustn’t let my eagerness result in a bad product, but I also don’t want to sit on my hands and delay!
Essentially when we create something we have three options –
- Keep working on it endlessly and never show another living soul (it’s important knowing when to let go!)
- Release it too soon and risk a bad response (All confidence and no restraint is generally a bad move – patience is key.)
- Work on it to the best of your ability and then have the courage to share it (This one. Do this one.)
It’s a balancing act between all three even at the best of times. I can honestly say that sharing my work has helped a huge amount. To share something is to show courage. To improve upon something is wise. To love the (sometimes painful) process is liberating.
Your story may never be ready – but you can be.
My grandfather died Christmas 2016. Death had seemed a long way away – suddenly it was at the door. The bubble had popped and everything felt suddenly very small and very delicate.
Mortality had arrived.
One of my short stories had been published but I felt as though I was standing still. On January the 1st I swore to put something out there. Time was short and I had to DO something.
Telling people I was a writer felt like a lie. I needed a product.
Reading through the short stories I’d written over the years something struck me – they were all about death. Not always directly, but they were all touched by the idea of endings, of passing.
This gave my theme: death.
March 2017 saw the release of Death Echo: Vol. 1, a collection of short stories by myself, illustrated by Jade Andrews.
Death Echo is a personal project. I never intended to make money from it (I still don’t) but I knew I wanted full control, something self-publishing facilitates. Three months of nonstop writing and editing, and some beautiful art and I had a product.
It went on sale at the end of March, though it nearly ended up in April due to my own struggles with Amazon’s upload system. The reaction was far better than I expected – I don’t have much of footprint when it comes to social media. Despite that I had over a hundred units moved in a week and a half (downloads and physical copies). I’ve not looked since, this isn’t a number game at the moment.
It was encouraging. Now I had something to talk about, something to sell. It was something I’d written and shaped and sent out there. I had friends, family and strangers all reading a reviewing my work. For the first time since declaring myself a writer I actually FELT like a writer.
It came from a place of desperation and fear but became something rather different. It may be about death but I hope in execution it’s something more uplifting.
I’m a firm believer that the quieter a writer is the more they’re writing. This has certainly been the case with me. These last few months I’ve buried myself in my work in order to reach a pretty extreme deadline. The thought of missing it fills me with dread, but I mustn’t let my desire for progress get in the way of the quality of the final product. All told I have around a month to get things in order.
I’ll make more announcements closer to the deadline, as I’ll have a better idea of what’s happening. In the meantime rest assured that every free moment I have is spent agonizing over the hobby that I so dearly wish to make a career.
To those of you who don’t know:
Discworld is a comic fantasy book series written by the English author Terry Pratchett, set on the fictional Discworld, a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A’Tuin.
Isn’t it perfect? How many fantasy books are out there with their own worlds? How many weird, made up names have authors created? Yet none are so memorable as the Discworld. None match its creative simplicity. Why is this? I think there are three reasons:
- The absurdity of it – (see above description)
- It plays on the silly idea of a flat earth – (Any flat earthers in the house??)
and perhaps most crucially:
This last one I find the most interesting. Go up to someone and say ‘Discworld’. They may well tell you to fuck off, but at the same time they’ll get an image in their head, perhaps not of the turtle and the elephants, but of a disc shaped world. It marries two words that people understand: ‘disc’ and ‘world’ and builds something amazing around it.
How can a writer match that?
In my current novel: ‘Proper Magic’, I have a fantasy world. I have a concept that I hope will set it apart from its peers, but it still needs a name and I can guarantee it’ll be no Discworld…
Ah well, aim for the stars. Who knows: you may hit an elephant.
Perhaps you’ve read that title and gone:
‘Well, duh! I’m writing a hundred things!’
‘But all my effort is going into this one project!’
Neither response is wrong and we all have our own systems, but if your answer was the latter then might I suggest having two projects on the go?
Back when I focused on one thing at a time I got mired in the effort. This is partly due to forcing my storytelling into one particular type of story, even when my mood was elsewhere because ‘I have to focus on this to get it done.’
I don’t suggest writing loads at once. Having a dozen novels on the go leads nowhere and you end up drowning. But have two stories, or like in my case I have the Death Echo series in the background while working on my novel, Proper Magic.
It helps clear out the creative cobwebs which turn up after too long spent cleaning the living-room but ignoring the attic!
When you hit a block in one project dive into the other. The less wasted time the better, and the more you’ll learn about your writing.
You’re a writer! You must be really good at spelling!
You’re a writer! You must get really annoyed when some has the wrong grammar!
You’re a writer! That’s so intellectual! I could never write a book!
I’m pretty bad at spelling, I have a real concern that I might not understand commas and I mostly write about wizards with silly names (and death, a lot about death).
I’m making it up as I go along. So is every writer. Don’t worry.
TL;DR – Don’t overthink it, just do it! Overthinking is for the editing phase.
That title is a bit misleading. Every writer is a struggling writer. If you’re not struggling then you’re not writing!
Below are a series of tips in no particular order. Some may not apply to you at all, but some might. They’ve helped me!
- Write a little every day (even a hundred words is a hundred words in the right direction!)
- Never force the words (If the words aren’t coming perhaps you should do some…)
- Research, research, research (We all have google – it’s easy)
- Set BIG goals (This year I want my novel written!)
- Set little goals (This week I want 2000 words written)
- Don’t be scared to delete (Just because we’re sitting on our asses doesn’t mean our writing should be bloated)
- Try writing short stories (I put this off for too long!)
- Read your genre(s) (Duh)
- Learn from what you read (Others make mistakes so you don’t have to)
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes (Fear stops people from achieving their dreams)
- Treat writing like a job (You HAVE to read up on dragon lore before the end of the week or your boss will be on your ass [you’re the boss])
- Enjoy your job! (Oh boy, dragon lore!)
- You don’t have to pick a side when it comes to self publishing and traditional publishing (You can do both – just not with the same manuscript)
- Be brave (Don’t be ashamed of what you’re writing! Embrace it!)
- Write from the heart, edit from the brain (Some things need passion, other things need logic)
- Don’t overuse words (Yet again I used yet one too many time… yetyetyet)
- The ‘Find’ tool in word is your friend
- The ‘Replace’ tool can easily become your enemy
- Be Patient (Good things take time. Take a deep breath.)
- Don’t be bitter (Don’t hate others for their success)
- Give a story time to breath (Put it aside for a month, reread it)
- Every correction you make is a lesson (Learn that lesson!)
- Back-up everything you write (email, hardrives etc)