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?