Why haven’t I published a book yet?

It’s a question I get from almost everyone in my life who knows that I’m a writer.  It’s the first thing people ask when I mention that I’m a writer.  It also has an answer that is too complicated for small talk and is difficult for people, even other artists to understand.

To break it down, it can take anywhere from 3-6 months to write a first draft of a novel, accounting for the fact that I, like many unpublished writers, work a full time job and do not make any money from my writing.  A first draft of a novel is not like a finished painting, it is crap.  Utter crap.  No first draft is ever readable.  I take pride in the fact that I produce pretty decent first drafts, but even I consider my first drafts a mere skeleton of what the final product should look like.  Factor in that I write fantasy and the fifty thousand word standard for contemporary novels skyrockets to a minimum of one hundred thousand words and sometimes that stretches even the 6 month mark a little further out.

Subsequent drafts can also take anywhere from 3-6 months, but I’ll be more precise and say that a second and third draft will only take me about two months each to produce.  This is if I’m doing good with my writing schedule, not going out of town a lot and not working weird hours that affect my free time and sleeping time (which I frequently do).  Also barring the fact that I often get new ideas and will take a week to write those fresh ideas down and get them out of my system, then get back to whatever I was already working on.

So, a minimum of a year to get to a third or fourth draft, which a writer will be ready to show to someone else, preferably another writer, or their entire writing group if they’re lucky to have one.  We do this thing called critiquing, which is where we trade pieces of late-stage drafts with other writers and give them constructive feedback from a writer’s point of view, some of the most valuable feedback we can get for our drafts.  That puts us in the fourth or fifth draft, sometimes taking up to six months for another writer to give our draft the attention and feedback that it needs.  This is the step I am at with Shadowhand, my current fantasy project, I’m looking for someone who wants to trade critiques so I can get some good feedback to make it stronger.

More important for writers planning to self publish, but also a valuable tool for writers looking to traditionally publish, is the beta reader.  A beta reader is someone in the writer’s target audience that reads the very polished version of the draft and answers specific questions regarding character and plot.  For instance, whether a certain sub plot works well in the story, or is confusing and distracting from another more important element.  A writer might ask their beta reader for their opinions on certain side characters that the writer isn’t sure they want to keep, or flesh out more, etc.  Depending on the number of beta readers, this process can take a while.  The larger the number of beta readers and the more diverse those people are, the better, but more readers means more time and everyone reads at a different pace.

So that puts us between four and six drafts of a novel, depending on the method a writer uses and if they choose to use the beta reader model.  For a first novel, the more eyes on it before an agent sees it, the better.

Which brings us to the agent.  For anyone hoping to traditionally publish through a publishing house, large or small, they need a literary agent.  This is a person who has connections at the publishing houses, knows editors and will read your manuscript and know the best people to send it to.  They make money off of your sales, taking a commission, basically, so it is in their best interest to get your book the best deal with the biggest publisher.  Finding an agent interested in your work can take several months, or even years.

Same thing with an editor.  Having an agent will generally speed up the process because hopefully they are targeting the people who would be interested in your work, but it still takes time.  Editors have interns who read through crap everyday that they never even see.  Even with an agent, it could take weeks or months for that editor to even get around to looking at your manuscript.  They are often in the middle of multiple projects at once, working with different authors.

So that’s the process (plus the year or two it takes for the editor to edit your manuscript, printing, distribution, marketing, etc).  I also happen to be a perfectionist.  I don’t settle for anything less than my best work.  My fantasy world was in the works for years before I was comfortable even writing an entire novel in its setting and even after I started writing those novels, my ideas for the world evolved and changed so I had things to change in the stories.

Writing is not easy.  I saw a post written by someone else who said (I’m paraphrasing here) that they think people (non writers) believe that writing is easy, because in theory anyone can write.  Which is true.  Anyone can write down a sentence, or a paragraph.  Anyone can write a novel.  You could sit down and write a novel right now and have fifty thousand words of crap sitting on your table in a few months, because that’s what it will be: crap.  Everything I’ve ever written has started out as crap.  I’ve written five different fantasy worlds that I scrapped and haven’t even bothered to go back and look at.

I went to school for four years for writing and it made me a better writer, but it doesn’t mean I can write a perfect first draft, no one can.  I can write a pretty good first draft that doesn’t make me cringe, but it’s not great.  The most valuable thing I learned in school was how to recognize what was bad and what was good and how to fix the bad things.

To sum up a very long post, I don’t have a book published yet because I’m not ready to publish one yet.  I have a draft that I am pretty proud of and am ready to get some feedback on, but I am not ready to have a professional literary agent read it.  When I send Shadowhand out to an agent for consideration, I want it to be the best thing that it can be.  Deep down, I am an artist at heart and I cannot set my creations free out in the world if they aren’t something I can be proud of and stand behind.  I know what good writing is and what goes into it, so I’m going to put the work in to give myself the best chance at succeeding in doing something I love.  I won’t settle for anything less because my art, and I, am worth more than that.

Why I wrote Shadowhand

[Featured image by Tumblr user lizard-is-writing]

With this post, I hope to start a sort of series about each novel I have written/am writing and why I felt compelled to tell that specific story.

I don’t write because it’s fun, I write because I have to.  It allows me to hold onto some semblance of sanity even though writing sometimes makes me feel more insane than not at times.  Writing isn’t easy, it isn’t magic, it’s hard work.  When I sit down to write out an idea, it’s because these characters won’t let their voices be drowned out, they demand to have their story written.

Dreya and Drys have been a part of my life since I was in high school.  They began as fae, but have ended up as a half human, half Dark Elf and a full blooded Dark Elf, respectively, in my original fantasy world of Tarith.  I knew pretty early on that their story was not going to be an easy one to tell and that it would hit close to home at times.  Even before they came to my world of Tarith, they were both broken people trying to heal from parts of their past.

Dreya and Drys’ story is one about darkness.  It is about the inner darkness that we all carry inside of us, whether it’s there because of something that has happened to us or because we choose to let it reside there.  This story touches on both of those and the things that become possible when one embraces their inner darkness, rather than running from it, or trying to deny it.

Good and evil are a matter of perspective.  Yes, there are some actions many of us can agree on that fall solidly on one side or another, but most of the world exists in a grey area that is only colored by our own experiences.  Shadowhand was born when I started looking at my own inner darkness and the parts of myself that didn’t agree with society’s vision of good and evil and decided to see what would happen if I let it flourish.  Spoiler alert: I became a much happier person.

I then wondered how I could tell a story about broken people who found strength in that brokenness and good people who sometimes do evil things.  From years of Dreya whispering to me about her haunted past, I knew that she would be capable of telling this story, and that Drys, a war veteran plagues with guilt, was also another perfect candidate.

I’m not here to write about the hero that saves the day, or the chosen one.  I’m here to reach down and pull out some of the darkest, truest parts of us and bare them to the light.  To show that embracing ones darkness does not make a person evil, but that it can sometimes heal us more than we know.

Progress

I’m probably in the healthiest mental state I have ever been in my life, right now.  I’ve struggled with depression to the point of suicide ideation and anxiety that has given me panic attacks when I’m on the way to work.  I still struggle daily with both, but in much less threatening quantities and I’ve gotten to this point by asking myself “what is making me unhappy and what can I do to change that?”

Not writing enough was one of those things so writing more went straight to the top of my to do list.  In the past year and a half, I’ve finished two manuscripts (one of them already partially written that I revived from the grave) and written 50,000 words of another that will probably end up being much, much longer than that.

Socially, I’ve withdrawn a lot and that has taken a toll on my social media interaction, but done wonders for my anxiety.  I have a very socially taxing job (I’m a barista in management) and I put almost all of my social energy into being present there every week.

Another facet of anxiety is that I second guess myself constantly when it comes to talking about my writing.  I never know what to share, what is too much to share, and if people are/will be even interested.  I feel like my writing process, being a complete pantser, is fairly boring and I don’t know what advice to give to people.  I know it’s in there somewhere, I just don’t know how to dig it out.  After all, I would hope that my BA in Creative Writing that taught me so much about writing that I still use would produce something useful that I could share with others.

So this is my attempt to revive this blog and post more about my writing and writing in general.  I started this blog to talk about why I write and why writing is important to me and other people.  I’m in the middle of rewriting the first novel in my original fantasy series so I think I’ll start blogging about that process.  I’m about halfway through the rewrite and I’ve discovered a lot about myself as a writer and how far I’ve come since I first put the idea down on paper.  Perhaps someone will find something that speaks to them in my process.  While it’s gotten manageable, the anxiety is still there and its hard to put myself out there, but I think it’s important, since I shouldn’t discount the importance of my own words.  I’m a writer, after all, if I don’t take myself seriously, why should anyone else?