Preparation is awfully important if you are planning to climb Mt. Everest. If you show up in a T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops, with a sack lunch, it is likely you will perish during the ascent.
The same idea applies to the writer. Preparation is one of the keys to success.
There Are No Shortcuts
Despite numerous methods for efficiency, there is still no shortcut in writing a great book. It is rare for anyone to slap together a masterpiece in a few short days. Does anyone actually think that a professional in this industry can’t tell the difference?
Too often I run into writers who want to pull an old manuscript out of a drawer, blow off its dust, and send it our way. For example, I once had someone send me a manuscript that had ©2019 on the front page. It may have been a simple error, but it also revealed how long they had been working on the manuscript. Unfortunately, it still needed more work.
Or the person who self-published and the book has not sold well. The book was poorly written and poorly packaged. And yet, they sent us a copy of this “failed” book, asking us to “take it to the next level,” not understanding that publishing it before it was ready created an impossible challenge to overcome. The shortcut became a dead end.
There is also the potential danger of exposing a lazy streak. “I really don’t have time to do the research.” Or “Who is going to notice if I don’t go through the manuscript another time?” Or “Why bother? The agent is just going to reject it anyway.”
This is why it is called “work.” Writing isn’t called “play time.” While it may be a hobby (which is fine!), it isn’t an excuse for shortcuts.
There Are No Substitutes
This is your work, not your neighbor’s, not your parent’s, not your friend’s. It is yours. Yes, you may use the help of a book doctor, a freelancer, a critique group, or even a collaborator; but it is still your work. It is your name that goes on the cover.
For example, in 1991, NBA basketball star Charles Barkley claimed he was misquoted in his autobiography. (Link to article here.) Barkley admitted that he hadn’t read his 317-page autobiography until after excerpts had been published in the news.
The lesson here is to own your content. Take the time in preparation to make sure what is out there with your name on it is something that won’t need a disclaimer. This is often forgotten with social-media posts. Even forwarding a link to something is a tacit endorsement unless you are careful.
There Are No Guarantees
You could put in the 10,000 hours of practice Malcom Gladwell says is the minimum time before you are ready. You could come up with a great idea. You might have some natural aptitude for writing. But it still doesn’t guarantee that it is going to break through. Someone else may have just released a book similar to yours. Executing your craft may need another 10,000 hours before it is good enough. Many writers fail at this stage because they feel entitled and are frustrated with rejections.
John Creasy, the English novelist, kept at it. He kept getting rejected, so he decided to use pen names to create new identities. Fourteen of them! Collectively, he received 753 rejection letters. But he didn’t give up. His 754th became the first of his 564 published books. What if he had quit at the 700th rejection?
The bottom line is to take the time necessary to truly excel. It will be worth it in the end.
(An earlier version of this article was posted in December 2011.)