On the road to publication there are several phases that come and go like seasons – drafting, editing, waiting, rejection and procrastination. I find myself wrestling with each one when I’m in the throes of it, but afterwards I can often see the benefits. My aim now is to try and balance the downsides with the upsides in the moment.
Cons: The blinky cursor is mocking you, telling you that you’ve forgotten how to write, or worse, you never could and never will. The word count feels huge, half-formed characters feel clunky and the plot wobbly. You dream of having the problem of a soggy middle, because then at least you’d have a story. Also, what if nobody likes it, what if it’s rubbish, what if, what if, what if.
Pros: This draft is for you and nobody else. It does not matter about ANY of the details. If you’re panicking about a section, tell yourself you’ll catch it in the edits and skip on. This phase can be fun, full of energy, can recapture your love of writing and give you the buzz of hitting good daily word counts. And once a first draft is finished, it re-enforces the fact that you can do this. Repeat after me: You Can Do This.
Tip: Just start writing and trust your brain to catch up.
Cons: For every plot point or character trait you unpick, the story unravels a little bit more. Like tidying a cupboard, it has to get messier before it gets better but when you are surrounded by part-scenes and cut and pasted chapters, it’s hard to see your way through. There are lots of decisions – about which ending is best, which characters to kill off, whether the pacing works, whether the language is right for your audience. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Pros: At the end of this process, your story will be shiny, polished so that it gleams. If you’ve done this before, perhaps read an early and later draft of a previous story to prove to yourself that it’s worth it and that you can do it. It’s also a skill – the more you do, the better you’ll be and if you’re serious about this writing malarkey, embrace it as great practise.
Tip: Make notes and save regularly. Create new versions if you’re trying something out; use it like a safety net – you can always go back to an old version if it doesn’t work out.
Cons: Waiting sucks. It is a universal truth. As writers we seem programed to predict the worst. No news equals, in our heads, the very worst news possible. Whether we’re waiting for feedback from a beta-reader, querying an agent or on submission to an editor, it is hard not to get sucked into the vortex of doom (email-checking).
Pros: However, this time is guilt-free. You’ve finished a story (for now) and although you can start tinkering with the next project, there is no pressure to do anything. Now is the time to catch up with life: see friends, read or clear out the shed. Whatever. Do lovely things for yourself to mitigate the pain of waiting. Savour a cup of tea, treat yourself to a new notepad – it doesn’t have to be big, but be kind to yourself. Few enjoy this stage, so try and make it as bearable as possible.
Tip: Limit the number of times you check your email and stick to it. See writer friends who sympathise but help you not to dwell on it.
Cons: Rejection can come in many forms but all sting. This is a sharp pain as opposed to the dull ache of waiting. If it is the last rejection for a particular manuscript, there may be feelings similar to grief. Don’t rush yourself. Feel the emotions, go through the stages until you feel more accepting of the situation.
Pros: At the risk of sounding trite, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to write something better. To write the story that might have been tickling your brain for a while. And it will be bigger and better. Harness the feeling of ‘I’ll show them’ by writing the next. Mourn your last story but MOVE ON. You never know, a future editor might want to resurrect it, but they’ll never know about it unless you write the next.
Tip: Never email anyone in the professional world while angry or hurt. Ranting to a close writer buddy is definitely allowed.
Cons: This can strike at any time, at any stage and it causes guilt – I should be writing, I should be reading, I should be editing. I used to feel like I’d ‘wasted’ whole days on the laundry, or sorting out our toy heap, or chopping wood when I could have been writing.
Pros: I have been developing a theory that procrastination is actually a valid and vital part of the writing process (hear me out). Often while doing a mundane, physical activity my mind is left to wander and explore ideas. I’m starting to recognise this, so when I find myself sorting a cupboard or taking a car-load to the charity shop, I get excited that a story must be percolating. It’s a way of giving yourself space to find the next idea.
Tip: Go with the flow. If it gets out of hand, agree with yourself that you’ll do a set amount of procrastination before getting down to work.
From what I’ve heard from writers at all stages, these are the parts of the process that never go away. However, we will get better at handling them. Even the most successful authors still get rejections, still have tough edits but it is the way we react to these situations which will determine whether or not we enjoy the journey.