Your agent may slow you down.
And this is good!
And, why is that?
I’ve been a writer myself, so I understand the frustration you must be feeling as you read my words. Who wants to slow down? Believe me, when I was waiting for my first book to be published, I only half-joked that it would be released posthumously. So I understand that writers don’t want to wait another ten minutes to see their books published. But those ten minutes — or more — are worth the wait.
Craft takes time. That’s why I tell my clients, “Take the time you need. Submit when, and only when, you are ready.”
Sometimes writers feel a sense of an artificial deadline. Perhaps an editor has put out a call for a certain type of book. Or a key editor will be judging a contest. Or a promising conference meeting has just occurred. So let’s hurry!
No, let’s not hurry.
Here are a few of my reasons why:
1.) The need for a well-crafted story will always exist. True, if you tarry, you may miss a “deadline” for an editor’s general call out for a story featuring two faeries falling in love but first they must save the unicorn trapped by the evil witch before they can marry. But if you are writing a story just to fill a niche, chances are that — dare I call it “desperation” — will show. Unless you are already the queen of faerie stories, chances are the editor will choose from among the other 1,648,489 stories she received since put out her notice all over the Internet. Better for you to craft a story you really love and eventually become known for that genre than to be stuck with a brand you can barely tolerate for the foreseeable future — all because in your haste, you responded to a cattle call.
2.) A contest is only one way to get an editor’s attention. True, if the editor judges your entry and asks to see it, that’s great. Remember, these are two really, really big IFs. First, the entry has to make it to the round your coveted editor judges, and then he has to make an effort ask to see your work as a result of reading the entry. These two events do not always happen, even for wonderful stories. So why hurry with a half-baked entry, going to the trouble and expense of entering a contest, only to be subjected to what may be harsh criticism because the first round judges didn’t like the entry? Better to wait until you are truly ready for the contest. Besides, your agent doesn’t need to wait for a contest. She can submit your work any time.
3.) The editor or agent will not forget that she went to a conference. True, you want to show that you are a hard worker and motivated to get your career moving. However, editors and agents know that proposals will trickle in anywhere from twenty minutes after the meeting occurred (Seriously!) to a year later. I’ve even had writers submit to me a couple of years later, for good reason. I’m fine with that. Why? Because I am always happy to review a well-crafted, marketable story.
How many books do you want to write in any given year?
How many words do you try to write in a day?
Do you have any tips or tricks you would like to share with other authors who are working to craft a great book?
My first serious book has taken me three years to complete. The second is going a bit better. As far as counting words each day, I don’t. Most days there is a scene in my head waiting to get into writing. Some days it’s a few pages, some days it’s a chapter or more. Some days I just bake bread! Then there’s the editing, re-writing,…. You are right, Tamela, good crafting takes time.
Writing for me is a little like piecing a quilt. There are all these wonderful blocks to piece together from scraps collected over the years. Once there is enough blocks to make the quilt, they are arranged in their most attractive display and stitched together. Then begins the painstakingly slow work of handquilting each block just right so it doesn’t come apart with use and age. The final touch of binding the quilt is like the final touch to a manuscript: The perfect cover art. The wrong binding can ruin the appeal of the entire quilt.
I’ve read about more organized ways to write, tried many of them, but this is what works for me. Thanks for your encouragement, Tamela.
Haste applies only when the object may be lost. For example, I have had to move quickly when purchasing property because it is unique and if well-priced, will move quickly. However, I struggle with people who tell me that someone wrote a great novel in three weeks. It may have been initially written in three weeks, but it certainly wasn’t great until much later. (Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston). I’m satisfied if my novel is finished whenever it is finished. I thought I had completed it a year ago until I reread it. Now I’m waiting for a professional editor to edit it this summer. Then I will have more rewriting. I had initially anticipated a 2-year completion time, but I’ve already passed that and it might be 4 years before you or Steve see it. I cannot set a daily goal because every day is different for me. My goal is to write something, anything every day, but if I don’t, that’s OK. Life is more than writing. I have a house, two vacation rentals, a business, and my husband’s softball league to help manage. The only tip I can pass along is write, write, write, then edit, edit, edit. For me editing is rewriting. When I merely try to reduce adjectives and adverbs that means rewriting sentences and paragraphs. I aim for perfection but will settle for something a little less than that.
I have learned that lesson to slow down. I took my whole manuscript apart and am piecing it back together. I was not ready, this time I will be 🙂
I really appreciate this post especially #3. Thank you for being willing to wait. I do believe as writers we put this artificial deadline on ourselves and rush. Nice to know agents are willing to wait. That is a new insight for me. Thank you
Laurie Alice Eakes
I’m comfortable with three books a year. Four is too much, and two gives me too much free time and thus I think I have lots of time and procrastinate. 🙂
2k a day is good because I am not a slam it out writer. I consider each line and its iplications to the story before writing it down.
That’s me all over. I’m learning patience, though. I’m 46 now and working 50 hours, so I have to be realistic. I can handle one novel per year. The hard part is setting aside all the other story ideas while completing the current WIP.
This is great advice, Tamela. I tend to work better under deadline, but if the deadline looms so close that what I produce isn’t my best, then really, what’s the point? Why submit anything but your best work, when the competition is so stiff? It seems that would be detrimental to the long-term career.
Tamela, thank you for these reminders. I wanted to hurry up a contest entry to submit recently. But, life happened, and I couldn’t do it. I have come to the conclusion that I would rather miss a contest this year and prepare a great entry rather than hurry and present something less than my best.
My goal for writing is 1,000 words a day. Since I have two youg ‘uns at home, and I’m not as experienced a writer as many here, I think starting out with one book a year is probably what would be most comfortable for me.
Writing craft–one thing I plan to do with each book is work on really mastering/refining one aspect of story. Setting, dialogue, certain aspects of character development…..Not that I won’t do my best on these in every story, but I want to aim to become a better writer with each book I write.
Speed can definitely spoil one’s craft. More than once, my non-writer wife has put down a novel and declared, “I used to like __________’s books, but now they’re not so good anymore.” I explained that success can bring swifter deadlines and greater demands, which don’t allow the writer’s imagination the luxury time to ferment as much as in the past. Put another way, a rushed, half-cooked meal can’t be as scrumptious as a meticulously prepared one.
As for writing time, I aim for 1000 words per day. If I make that, I can set aside my manuscript in good conscience. Without a daily goal, a novel manuscript became a black hole, sucking up every spare minute I could scrounge.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Rick, you are spot on! Successful writers do tend toward tighter deadlines because their work becomes in demand very quickly. The biggest challenge for successful writers is to strike that balance. This is another place where an agent can help.
Nicole L Rivera
Amen! It took me the longest time to know that it was okay to sloooooow down. In fact I work faster when I work slower.
Because when I work slow, I catch mistakes faster and produce a better finished copy. So when I say “I’m done,” I actually am! Amazing concept. It only took four years for me to learn this, lol.
Embrace the tortoise pace!
I love this, Nicole! I feel “slower” in words/day, than many of my writer friends. But my pace is because I try and remain conscience of the crafted words so I don’t have a TON of rewriting ahead of me. I always expect to edit after it’s written, but it’s become less and less of a “tedious” task since I’ve taken the time to focus on writing well in the first draft. Does that make sense?
Nicole L Rivera
Totally get it! Keep up the tortoise pace and win the race! 😉
I did four books last year, and by the end of the year I was wrung out! Not because I’m not up to it, but because the year had so many unexpected twists. I think allowing for those twists is the lesson I learned for this year. In creating my writing schedule, I’ve padded it a little more. I might still be able to do four books if called upon, but only if I keep things organized and stay realistic about what I can and can’t do. Meanwhile, I’m fortunate to have an agent that rolls with the punches right along with me.
This is timely, Tamela. You have probably sensed my struggle for patience this season! 🙂 I am a culprit of artificial deadlines and have tried to turn to prayer to truly know when and where God wants me to submit.
I have been on a roll of writing two books a year, and recently, writing about 2000 words a day. But that always changes when things come up, or I get a burst of inspiration!
Thanks for this great post.
My big lesson this year was “grow some patience”. I’m fairly certain I can write one book a year. But I write sagas that take ALOT of research. I had to research a whole culture, which one must do if one is crossing out of one’s own culture and going back 150 years. One book a year, it is. I won’t be happy with “I hope no one notices this”. Way to tank the career and reputation.
And words per day? Depends on the day. Some days more,some days less.
The kids expect food, clean clothes and all those extra perks.
This summer will mark four years of working on my first book, and sometimes I just want to pull my hair out! 🙂 But you’re right, I’ve had to tell myself over and over to slow down, be consistent, and do it right.
I couldn’t agree more with Tamela’s thoughts. I loved the “artificial deadline.” I truly understand that when an editor or agent shows interest that the desire is to get something in QUICKLY, but that can end up costing that author an opportunity to impress. I never mind waiting. I also have received proposed months or years after meeting with the author at a conference, and I have never regretted the time if it made the proposal something I wanted to read. You get one chance to impress. Don’t blow that with undue haste. 🙂
Tamela Hancock Murray
Kim, I LOVE when awesome editors at big houses agree with me! 😀
This blog has made me feel much better! We’ve had a premature baby (my son, not me!), my daughter sick during her fourth pregnancy, my youngest son’s wedding, parents that need attention, a husband that would like clean clothes occasionally, and a first chapter that I am trying to totally rewrite (which of course will affect the other chapters).
I’ve been fretting about the conference coming up in the Fall. My goal has been to finish my book (my first) and meet with you Tamela! Now I’m wondering if it will be finished, and edited. :/
My question is, if it’s not finished, but hopefully close, what can I bring to show you? What would you like to see? I’m still planning on coming to Indianapolis (my first conference!), and am determined to meet you!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Georgianne, with all those events, it’s a wonder you were able to write a grocery list, much less chapters. Kudos to you!
I am so glad you want to meet me! You can come as you are, with a one-sheet and perhaps the first few pages of your polished chapter. I look forward to meeting you!
Keep at it, and God bless you.
You don’t know how much I needed to read this, Tamela. Thanks for your honesty. 🙂
I’m not sure I have a specific daily count. Some days I only get 500 words in, some days I get 4,000. I agree quality needs to be there, but for me, as a newer writer, sometimes it’s hard to know if I’m hitting the mark before I hit the send button. And cps aren’t always helpful.
I didn’t mean for the cp remark to sound as it does. I love my cps!! But most are junior writers and are still learning. I just recently graduated to senior status and there is still so much I don’t know/understand.
I aim for one to two thousand words a day, five days a week. I’d like to do two books a year.
Thanks Tamela for a great subject. In Film and Television Production the term is ‘Hurry Up and Wait.’ I’ve known my share in that industry from 1977-2007. Since the transition to writing in 2007 after it being a secret hobby since 1992 I get the roller coaster frustrations (and blessings) of ‘Hurry Up and Wait.’
When at the 2012 ACFW Conference in DFW or prior to it I had a novel I had worked on since 1992. Prior to the conference I thought it was brilliant. Learning from the ACFW Web site and interaction with a few writers/editors I learned it needed a lot of work and it was a genre not embraced for a prepublished writer. So Margaret Daley (a wise mentor) suggested the Love Inspired route to propose (Speed Date) and write a 55k novel. I thought ‘Okay, it will set me back from my original goal but I’m willing to learn, refine and grow.’ By Conference time I had several chapters and all the marketing that went with it (One Sheets, Synopsis, Quasi Proposal). At the Conference I learned it had potential but I became overwhelmed in all of the work shops and sessions. What I thought I knew – well I did not know enough and there was so much more to work on.
Post the conference my mind was mush for about 6 weeks. By the holidays I put down the stuck WIP and wrote another in 10 days. I actually thought I had something ‘worthy of submission.’ The illusions of success in completing a full draft, however, were short lived. Hiring an editor to work with me brought praise of what I had learned and put into practice and the wake up call I still had work yet to go. It was 50/50. So I spent most of the past three months studying the things I had not yet grasped and put into practice. And concerned the only one who would compliment my work would be God in Heaven. The goal of becoming published was so much further down the road. It was like a heat mirage in the desert when I was a kid and my parents driving us on vacation: One sees the mirage but never reaches it. Talk about encouragement for a writer in a hurry to ‘get there.’
The light bulb finally came on when reading a Love Inspired novel after reading Collen Coble’s LONESTAR ANGEL. As I was reading I started to edit sentences in my mind. I started being able to focus on POV of each of the two characters. And I started to see SHOW in action. So I started editing my WIP.
I’m so glad I never shopped the 1st Draft to you or LI. So glad I leaned on my mentors who like you suggested there was a future but to take my time in submitting, ‘until its ready.’ That pushes back my timeline when I started the serious pursuit in 2/2011 to 9/2012 and now maybe late spring to summer of 2013. But when it ships and is submitted it will be ready to be seen. And for the downtime until its reviewed there are others to work on so not to tap my fingers or feet in idle waiting. Thanks for the great reminder the wait is worth the work to make sure its ready.
No better two words have I heard recently s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.
I so want my book to be done! But not at the expense of quality. I’m exceedingly grateful for my new best friend and editor (yes, the same one I wanted to strangle). Her comments and insights requiring me to rework have greatly improved my book. I hope to have it published by….when it’s ready.
Carole Lehr Johnson
Thanks for some great insight. I’m a little weird–I like deadlines–they keep me on track. They hold me accountable. Otherwise, I tend to procrastinate a bit. God bless.
Patty Smith Hall
Tamela, this is such an important lesson for every writer to learn. My first novel took five years to write–my second one, six months. I use to worry that I’m a slow writer but that’s how it is. I’ve now figured out my comfort zone is about three books a year. When I’m writing a rough draft, I write anywhere from 1-4K a day, depending on how the day is going.