Every year, at some point in the middle, I look back on the previous few months and bemoan the lack of a new book release. The thinking goes, if I didn’t publish a book yet, then I’m slacking, and losing momentum in the market, and losing readers along the way. What have I been doing with all this time?? It’s worse when I look at my Facebook News Feed and see dozens of other authors posting about their new or upcoming releases. I’m happy for my friends, but at the same time feel like I just missed a ton of opportunities.
And every year I have to remind myself that is the wrong kind of thinking.
Novel writing is singularly the weirdest artistic endeavor ever in terms of how it evolves over time. If you paint, even if it takes you weeks or months to finish a piece, you can always look at the canvas in progress and see how much work has gone into it. If you compose music, you can play snippets of the composition and in an instant hear the results of your hard work. If you sculpt, you have tons of chipped away rock to clear out as a show of how much you’ve already accomplished. With any of these, one glance will show you how far you’ve come toward completion, and you can be proud of that.
But writing a novel goes largely unseen, unless you print out every single chapter (which is a terrible waste of paper, IMO, especially if you go back and revise every single one as you go, like I do). A digital word file will only show you a handful of two-dimensional pages, and a bunch of numbers at the bottom of the screen, which is so abstract as to be useless. To truly gauge your progress, you need to read what you’d already written and compare the actual plot to the outline you have in your mind to see how far you still have to go.
And the creation takes months.
And all those months you sit there, working on your masterpiece, no one can see it. To the rest of the world, it’s empty time passing by. It doesn’t exist until you announce, “I’m finished!” and present it to them in all its complete glory, and then it’s an instantaneous achievement. People applaud, they tell you how amazed they are at what you’ve created, and how quickly.
Meanwhile, you force a smile like that’s exactly what you’d done, until you start to believe it yourself. Once your book’s first draft is finished, the time it had taken shrinks in your mind from the months you worked on it to the final weeks you actually remember working on it.
Nothing wrong with that, until you start working on the next one and expect it to take those few weeks instead of the standard many months, and you start to feel like you’ve lost your mojo in a big way.
I think that’s why I started putting together excerpt graphics for my WIPs. For one thing, it gives me something to do when my muse is tired. For another, it serves as a visual progress report that says, “Yes, I’m still working on this! I haven’t forgotten about it. It’s growing and evolving, and alive. It’s alive!”
When actively writing, time is perceived to be moving much faster. There never seems to be enough to finish just one more page. When blocked, time drags on until I can differentiate between each individual minute in which I’ve written nothing. My mind could be churning with ideas, but unless they make their way onto the page, it feels like time wasted.
Because time is the enemy–always. Either there’s not enough (to do what you need) or there’s too much (to wait until you can do what you need). A book release, for example, must be timed just right. You need to prep beforehand, drum up some buzz early enough to carry through release week, but not so early that people lose interest by the time the book comes out. The next one must come in a timely manner, too. Too fast, and the two cannibalize buzz between them (because, while you can promote several things at once, too much of it can harm your influence). Too slow, and your first book gets buried under thousands of new releases coming out every day, until it’s forgotten.
Thus, to be a writer–especially a self-published one–is to be something of a fortune teller as well. Except, it’s next to impossible to predict how a book will fare with readers, or for how long. So here is my sales pitch for this week:
If you like a book you’re reading, consider leaving a review.
It helps books get discovered, and keeps writers doing what they do best:
bringing you the stories you love.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time!
~A grateful starving author