“If it be not now, yet it will come…”

We all know that the last part of that quote is “the readiness is all.”   Words to live by, no?  So, why is everyone in such a hurry?

Specifically, I’m talking about the hurry to get a half-baked manuscript in front of an agent, the hurry to start the next book when you’re still writing the first one (and, by the way, you have a looming deadline for that first one), the hurry to get a new contract before the current book has been published, the hurry to get all of your writing published at once (something currently made much more possible through electronic means), etc.  We’re all in too much of a hurry.  We cut corners like we cut off other drivers—because we have to get somewhere five minutes ago before someone else beats us there.  We’re so obsessed with being done that we don’t do things well.

Sure, we’re in a hurry to make money and see our names up in lights and there’s nothing wrong with that (see Jim’s recent blog post on the subject of art vs. filthy lucre).  Without those incentives, we’d still be sitting around in caves eating leftover mastodon while wearing unfashionable fur coats.  But the rush to get rich and famous (or even just published) needs to be offset by a nice dose of readiness.  Your manuscript or proposal needs to be ready—edited and re-edited before even submitting to agents, polished for submission once the agent has taken you on, proofread so that most if not all “it’s” and “its” are as they should be.  You need to be ready to take on the unglamorous, thankless part of the process—writing query letters, sifting through rejections, following up patiently and courteously, starting all over again after a promising early read leads nowhere, being a savvy business person who reviews  his/her contracts and asks relevant questions of his/her agent and publisher, laying the groundwork for the platform you’ll need when you have a publisher and a publication date, and, of course, being a denizen of “the waiting place” while the publishing process unfolds with all the alacrity of a snail on downers.

So, yes, it’s a bit of a “hurry up and wait” conundrum.  On the one hand, you need the fire in the belly that gets that germ of an idea out of your head and into print.  On the other hand, making sure your work is ready for public consumption is not a process that should be rushed.  Write well, edit carefully, do your due diligence in getting published (know your audience) and then have patience with the publishing process—learn your lessons before rushing out to get the next one and the next one and the next one out there.

And, of course, readiness is a relative and somewhat intuitive term.  Seems to me that Danielle Steel’s work is ready a lot faster than Cormac McCarthy’s but that’s why there are different categories of fiction.  How about you guys?  How do you know when your work is ready?  And, do you sometimes hurry the process along in a way you know you shouldn’t?

6 Responses to “If it be not now, yet it will come…”

  1. LupLun says:

    A significant factor is that we need to get money. Not “rich and famous” money, but “pay the electric bill” money. Take a walk down to Zuccotti Park tomorrow and you’ll see firsthand how depressed people are about the economy, and how cynical about the future. The rushed approach springs partly from fear that by the time your book starts making money, you’ll be half-dead from malnutrition.

  2. I think our society in general is in too much of a hurry, and a lot of it is for want of money or accomplishment, so I really appreciate this post. I’ve been writing seriously for a few years with the full attention of seeking publicatio. I also work full time and am in grad school, and decided early on that it would be much more productive for me to work on my craft then to try to get my book published NOW while my mental energy is split between so many things. No matter how much I explain this to people, there are some who just don’t understand it. (Of course, some of them think my book will sell instantly and I will be filthy rich right away. That’s totally how it works, right?)

    I agree that we need that fire in our belly, but we need to temper it somewhat with patience so we can create the best work we can, even if it’s not the fastest. At least, that’s what I want to do. And it’s good practice for all that waiting around I’ll be doing while waiting to hear back from agents…and then from editors…and then for the book to come out…

  3. Sometimes writers just write more than the process can handle at one time. Some famous authors have created alter egos to publish what runneth over from their generous cups. Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates come to mind. I don’t think that this hyper-productivity is necessarily a sign that the authors in question are rushing things out the door. I think it may be a side effect of the best advice one writer has ever given another: write every day. In the past, I’ve taken breaks after finishing a project and it has always cost me in the long run, because getting back into the daily writing habit isn’t easy after you’ve let that first week, month, year go by. It’s natural to think, “I deserve a break,” but sometimes all a break does is leave you broken. And it’s a painful process, having to glue yourself back together and building that momentum up all over again. That said, unless something is just so incredibly timely that it’ll whither and die if it doesn’t get out within the next year to 18 months, well, there is such a thing as sitting on it until the time is right. So put it aside — or create a pseudonym — and keep piling up your pages for when the pages don’t come so easily.

  4. Oscar says:

    Hypothetically, what if a man, full of hubris and impatience, sent you a rushed manuscript that you requested over a year ago? (This same manuscript was rejected the same day because it was so unpolished.)
    Now, let’s say this man realized the mistakes of his ways. He went back to his cave and finally discovered the worth of patience.
    Let’s also say his gritty and antiheroic tale started with a twisting of the Declaration of Independence in such a fashion:
    “MY INDEPENDENT DECLARATION: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one man to dissolve the bands which have connected him with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle him, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to suicide.”
    Would it be okay for the man of this hypothetical scenario to query you again?

  5. Kem says:

    Brilliant post. Thanks for the reminder that it’s ok to take your time and get it right.

  6. I have a two part answer. The first is that learning that your MS is only half-baked is part of the writing journey. Agents and editors will probably groan at this, but there really isn’t a more brutally true way to find this out expect by sending out your MS and getting rejected. I’m NOT suggesting that writers should just send things out without any belief in their MS. What I’m saying is that most writers really believe their book is fully-baked — until they have a pile of rejections as evidence to the contrary. Writers who ultimately end up published are the ones who take a look at the rejections and get back to work. (There are always exceptions, of course.) I don’t know of very many writers who didn’t go through this process of discovery and learning.

    The second part of my answer is that writing to deadline was one of my most valuable learning experiences as a writer. I used to believe absolutely that I needed a year to write a book. Until I had to write one in 4 months.

    There is certainly a tension between writing fast(er) and writing well, but the two things are not mutually exclusive.

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