Many years ago, sometime after dinosaurs but before Justin Bieber, writers worked in isolation. They came up with an idea, plotted the book and wrote it – maybe in mere months, maybe over several years. Then, in happy ignorance of what any other writers in the world might be doing, they sent it off for consideration.
With the arrival of the interweb, however, all that changed. Being online brought many advantages for the would-be writer – a wealth of information and advice, a greater degree of access to publishers and agents, a hitherto absent sense of community. But it also brought one serious disadvantage: the newly connected writer could compare him/herself to other people.
I'm sure you know how it goes; most of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. My online writer friend has just published her first book. And that guy I did NaNoWriMo with last year has signed with an agent. X has a wildly popular blog, Y has an amazing website, and Z has ten thousand Twitter followers. I'm failing as an author and as a human being! I need to catch up!
Thinking like this is easy to fall into, but it's ultimately unproductive. We're not in some kind of global race to see who can achieve the most the quickest. What matters is the quality of the final product: the book itself. If it takes you a year to write a decent book then there's no point rushing to publication after six months. In fact, it does you much more harm than good.
Fine, so that girl you met in a writer's forum can go from blank page to completed novel in the time it takes you to come up with a sketchy plot outline. So what? She's not you. Work at the speed you know has the best results for you. Making sure what you've written is as good as it can be before you start submitting or self-publishing will have much more positive consequences in the long run than trying to sell something you rushed through in a vain attempt to keep up with some idealised schedule.
Of course, 'taking the time to get it right' can become an excuse in itself – and that's where the other half of my title rears its head. There has to come a point when you know, deep down, that any further editing you do will only be changing, not improving. Any further work on the book after that falls under the heading of procrastination. I've written about this before, so I won't say anything more about it here except Stop. Just stop. You can't make it any better; steel yourself and take the plunge.
So what's the optimum length of time to spend on a book? you may be wondering. The golden mean between rushing and lingering? Well, that's the point: I can't tell you. It's different for every writer and every book. But if you keep on writing, you'll know it when you find it.
Write Every Day: tip of the week
OK, so you've decided to have a go at writing every day, but you're finding it difficult to get started. Maybe you're used to only writing at weekends, or you can't seem to get more than a sentence on the page without thinking That'll do until tomorrow. If that's the case then here are a few suggestions.
Welcome back, everyone. I hope you have enjoyed the break and are now looking forward to 2012 with wide-eyed excitement/terrible glee/unmitigated despondency (delete according to character type and personal preference).
It being the first day of the new year, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little bit about resolutions. For this is, of course, the perfect – or at least traditional – time to cast away old habits and form shiny new ones. Now, if ever, is the moment to resolve to eat my greens, go for a healthy refreshing run every morning and be nice to everyone, even if I don’t feel like it. Right?
Well, no. Because I came to the conclusion some years ago that making resolutions is thankless, fruitless and pointless. Mainly, it has to be said, because I never keep them. A list of resolutions in January is the perfect recipe for misery and self-disgust in December. In the past I would come up with ten or twelve things I wanted to get done during the year, then concentrate all my efforts on the one I was really interested in. And I’m not convinced that the virtuous feeling I got when I wrote down things like ‘keep the house tidy’ or ‘stop eating so much chocolate’ was worth the subsequent and rapid realisation that it was never going to happen.
So this year, I’ve decided to take a different approach. There’s just one thing I want to do: write every day. No matter how busy, how tired or how unimaginative I feel, I want to get some words down. And I’m not going to look at it as a resolution so much as an inevitability. Because I know how easy it is to slip into days, even weeks where the notebook remains closed and the laptop gathers dust. And the one thing I don’t want from 2012 is to look back and wish I’d done more.
Of course, it’s not going to be straightforward. As some of you already know, my partner and I are expecting a new addition to the household later this year, which won’t exactly make it easier to find time for writing. But even if I can only manage a sentence a day, at least I’ll have done something. At least I won’t let whole months go by in which I realise I haven’t achieved anything at all.
So, that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how I get on. And in the meantime, best of luck with all your resolutions – if, that is, you chose to make any.