Oh, Just Publish the Fucking Thing Already

This post is likely to be a minority view. It certainly goes against a lot of conventional wisdom. But it’s a viewpoint, maybe worthy of consideration, maybe not. Your mileage may etc etc.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how other writers go through the process of putting words onto paper (both virtual and actual). Some of it is about how they write, what they listen to, their favorite chair. Other parts are about how they either plan to or already market their work. The rest of the time, though, it’s all about The Rest of It. The publishing aspect. Critiques. Discussions. Edits. The birth process from Unpublished to Published. The messy, bloody, screaming struggle to bring something into the world that fills you with joy and wonder, and eventually, the panicky thought what the fuck do I do now?

I want to talk about that part.

I’ve met a lot of writers lately, and they all seem to fall into two camps. The first camp writes something, titles it, and publishes it. It’s not very good, generally. It’s full of typos and bizarre shit and could have used a second pair of eyes, or at least a finger on a mouse that can find the Recycle Bin (and if you use a Mac and don’t get the reference, eventually you’ll lose the training wheels and get a real computer. Ha! Kidding. A bit. Apple rant for another day.). These people will never be reached or changed, but they will write a freakish amount of stuff in a short period of time (and it’s generally freakish in both quantity and content). They are Camp A.

Camp B is the exact opposite. These are the people that carefully cultivate an online “platform” before they finish writing their story. Everything they write goes to at least 3 critique partners as they go. Rewriting is constantly going on, even as they are trying to finish the story. Maybe, eventually, hopefully, they manage to finish their story. Then it goes to Committee, or a writer’s group. Discussion ensues. More changes and rewrites, which are then sent back to the critique partners before filtering back to the group. Finally, a story emerges, that then goes to an editor. The editor then gives their subjective opinion. Rewrites, rinse, wash, repeat. This kind of thing can go on for years. YEARS.

Why? The quest for perfection, of course. The writer dreads exposing something where a single sentence is unclear, the pacing off just a bit, a description not perfect enough, a chapter with too many words in it, a chapter with not enough words in it. Any flaw or blemish is unacceptable. The stigma of self-publishing is so great that tremendous effort and hurdles must be overcome to avoid falling into the smelly underbelly of shitty work.

My answer to Camp B is this: get the fuck over yourself, and publish your fucking thinly-veiled My Little Pony fanfic already.

OK, that came out a little harsh, but the sentiment is pretty accurate. Eventually, you need to publish your novel, so you can move the fuck on to something else already. I’ve met people who have been working on their first book for 3 or 5 or 7 years. Fucking years. They’ve gone through a dozen or more edits. They’ve had ten different people giving advice and guidance and criticism and it’s still taking them 10 fucking years to publish something.

Writers get better by writing. They do NOT get better rewriting or editing. It’s a fact that I made up, and it’s still fucking true. Eventually, running around the fucking rabbit hole and rewriting and editing and rewriting and editing and rewriting becomes the game in and of itself. The pursuit for perfection becomes relentless, so that when that “perfect” gem – which will never be perfect – hits the bookshelves, virtual or otherwise, it will get snapped up and lauded and praised and entire island nations will give themselves over to the worship of the person who could bring such a wonderful novel about zombie gardeners into being.

Yeah, see, that’s not gonna fucking happen. Sorry.

Your book will hit, and it will sell, a few or some. Congratulations. But the sales won’t be huge, most likely. Because a lot of people in the world have written a single book, published it, and never did another. Why? They’re in Camp B, and that process is so fucking miserable they can’t bear to go through it again, especially when their book didn’t sell a shitload of copies. So it’s hard to stand out to a potential reader when you’ve got just one book to your name. Readers like seeing people who have a lot of books. Steve King didn’t become Stephen King because he published a polished gem of a first novel. He became Stephen Fucking King because he wrote like a crazed motherfucking banshee, cranking out short stories and books because he didn’t know what else to do with the gibbering voices in his head.

So, herewith comes my shitty advice:

Trust your instincts.

You and I are on my deck. I’m smoking a cigarette (it’s a clove, and yes, apparently I’m a gothy teenager with angst issues) and I have a drink. It’s later in the evening, the rest of the party is inside, we’ve had a few drinks and are feelin’ fine. I ask you to tell me a story. You can either a) tell me a fucking story, or b) go back inside, consult with friends about which story you should tell, whether you should add the aside or the part about the uncle, try it out on them, tweak it, then finally come back and tell me their story. I didn’t ask for their fucking story. I asked for YOUR story. If you’re a fucking storyteller – and if you’re a writer, you’d better be a fucking storyteller – then you know how to tell one. You know what’s necessary, what’s funny even if it isn’t necessary, who the interesting people are, and all the rest.

Those are your instincts working. Trust them, because they’re the main thing you’ve got. If someone tells you to cut something from your novel – and of course they’ll make sure to add, “sometimes you need to kill what you love” just to add an extra dash of Worm of Doubt – and it screams out NO and you feel horrible about the idea, consider this: you don’t have to listen to them. It’s YOUR story. Not theirs. Think it over. Mull it in your head. Then decide if you want to follow their suggestion or not. It is ALWAYS your choice.

Editing is subjective.

Editing is also necessary, important, fruitful, and painful. But that second or third or fucking nineteenth set of eyes is absolutely subjective. If editing was completely objective, then someone would have written a fucking app for it. Run your document through, and all the Wrong Things would pop out. But people ain’t like that. Every editor has their own prejudices, things they love, things they hate. If I find out my editor loves Hemingway, I turn and run the fuck the other way, because I’ve never met an adjective I didn’t like and not every fucking sentence in the world needs to be five words long. So it’s important to keep in mind that your editor isn’t always right. Reject the feedback they give you that turns your story into their story. And if they bitch and refuse to do any more editing unless you change it, walk the fuck away. If an editor thinks they’re such hot shit and always right, let them become the fucking best-selling novelist instead of trying to choke the life out of everything else they come across.

Master your fear.

I know. I feel it too. You’re not good enough. Your pacing sucks. Your characters are all right out of Manimal. No one would want to read this. In fact, smother yourself with this handy pillow and save everyone else the misery of your wretched feeble prose. I get it. I hear you. You’re scared. Scared people won’t like it (there are some that won’t). Scared people won’t read it (90% of the earth’s population won’t). Scared people will think you can’t write for shit (it’ll happen). Scared of putting yourself out there, exposed to ridicule, vulnerable and shaking and alone and oh god everyone’s pointing and laughing and I forgot my shoes and pants and where is my locker and when was the last time I was in class and why is my tooth loose? I get the fear. I know it intimately. So I will say this gently, and with love, and I’ll gently squeeze your hand as I say it, for comfort.

Get the fuck over it.

Seriously. Get over the fear, because if you can’t, you won’t succeed. You need confidence. You need to be able to put something out there that you are proud of (and that doesn’t necessarily mean ten years of 15 rewritings and edits, either – that’s just hiding behind your fear long enough to feel like, if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve got your partners and groups and editors to blame). And you need to do it again. And again. And again. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to write, and not be afraid. It’s ok to be scared sometimes, but for fuck’s sake, you were born with a voice and perspective that no other motherfucker on earth has ever had and is ever going to have again, so fucking USE IT. Let people love it and hate it and ignore it. That’s what people are going to do. But your perspective will be there for all time, or at least until the meteor hits. Don’t let fear kill you before you’ve even given yourself a chance.

Keep writing.

Finally, the most important thing of all. That first book you’ve been toiling over, slaving over, working and reworking ad infinitum et nauseum? It’s just the first brick in the wall you need to build. Sure, it’s great that the first brick is brightly polished and Bedazzled and all that shit, but it’s still just one brick. You want to be a writer for a living? Then WRITE, MOTHERFUCKER. Put out a dozen novels, all with a measure of quality (but they’ll never be perfect, remember?), and you’ll probably be considered a writer. But in order to do that, you can’t get bogged down in the shitty details. You can’t let doubt overcome you. You need to write, because nothing else matters. The more you write, the better you will be. REMEMBER THAT.

That first book you write, the one you slave over and worry over and fret about and can’t sleep because of – guess what? In ten years, you’re going to look back at it and wonder just what the fuck the big deal was. Hopefully by then, you’ve got 5 or 6 or 10 new novels. Each will be better than the last. Because it’s the only way to find your voice, to polish it, and make it fucking SING.

So, last time. I’ve just lit this here cigarette. I have a drink of some sort, probably made heavily with rum. It’s a nice evening, the breeze is rustling the leaves, I’m buzzing nicely. The rest of the party is inside, and it’s just you and me. Tell me a story.

Tell me YOUR story.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in Rantin' and Bitchin' and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Seriously? Just those two camps? Huh. I don’t know what group of gothy teenager with angst issues you’ve been hanging out with but I meet people who are all over the map in their process, I don’t know if I could assign the bulk to just two groups.

    Either way, you are right. Books aren’t written by committee and stories don’t work well when each aspect of them is put to vote. Write your shit then put it through the appropriate quality control steps the..shazaaaa!

    • Alan Edwards

      Heh. Yeah, I simplified things a bit. Everyone is all over the map. I reached for hyperbole a tiny itty-bitty touch. Maybe.

  2. reconstructed

    I really liked this. I know there needs to be a balance between edits and publishing but as a fan, I agree. I don’t want to have to check back to your website or blog over and over to see if you finally published your book. After awhile I’ll move on and stop checking. Conversely, I hate reading things I can tell have never been proofread or edited but editing something 10 times seems silly to me, again… I’m not a writer (I’m a fan) so… Take your book for example, I’ve read it. I loved it. You only had friends edit it. Did I find somethings “wrong”? Yes. But nothing that made me or my friends or my family regret buying it and THAT was before you had an e-version. So yes, there has to be a balance but if you write about vampires… you need to publish your book while vamps are hot, in ten years ‘steam-punk space alien romance stories’ might be the “in” thing and I might not want to read a vamp story. It is a tricky line but at some point you have to publish it and get on to writing the next one.

    • Alan Edwards

      It’s funny – it was a comment you made this weekend that was similar to what you just said that prompted the thought process behind this. A lot of times writers can become so bogged down in the minutia of publishing that they forget about the fans or people that want to read them. And you make an excellent point – waiting so long to publish something after it’s gone out of vogue can make a recipe for failure.

  3. As I’ve already declared my undying love for your post, which, given my rather strict upbringing, means defying my parents and living the bad boy dream, I just want to say “yay” for this post.

    Sometimes all the publishing talk, critique, etc, makes me stop and think, “Am I doing something wrong?” Because right now, I am just focusing on writing a good story.

    I know there will be editing and other things that need to be done pre-publishing, but for now, just let me write. Your post made me feel better about that. So thank you.

    • Alan Edwards

      Yay!

      Heh. Yeah, a lot of the times I let myself get bogged down in the minutae of the whole process and forget that I’m just telling a story. My run-ons and redundant sentences and adjectives will get sorted out on the back end.

      And I’m glad that my lunatic ravings helped someone! Ha.

  4. I loved this. I’m not a writer, just a reader, but I’ve heard so many writers talk about the process. I think your “tell me a story” example is spot on. I think grammar, word usage, etc can be perfected. But no one will ever write the perfect story that everyone will think is perfect.

    • Alan Edwards

      Amen to that. The structure can always be tweaked and improved, but it still needs to be there in the first place. Or so I feel, anyway.

  5. Peter Fitzpatrick

    But I’ve been working on my Nightmare Moon slashfics since the 80s! I’m this close to being 75% done.

  6. First of all: “LOL.” As usual, your “rant mode” always cracks me the hell up.

    Second: Yes, yes, and yes. I will argue there are more than Camp B (I myself fall into Camp C…edit the fuck out of something, realize I’m being a moron, and finally just let it go. See, there IS a middle ground.)

    And you couldn’t be more correct about what is needed to be a writer: just write. The editing and proofreading and whatnot is all necessary to a certain degree, but if you forget to write, you fall out of practice, and you learn to suck. If not for my flash fiction, I guarantee I’d fall into this camp.

    Well spoken, Reverand! ;D

    • Alan Edwards

      Ha! Yes, there is definitely Camp C, where 99.9999% of us live. They’re just a lot less fun to talk about.

      And I have no doubt there are plenty of people that wish I would ignore my own advice and just stop writing. I just keep doing it to spite them, personally.

  7. You’re talking about me, aren’t you, Alan? I know you are.

    I’ll admit that I’m the Camp B Counselor, the Queen of Running in Place.

    Fine. Talk about me all you want. I agree with a lot you have to say, but I will defend *my method* because it works *for me*.

    I strongly disagree, however, with your comment that “[Writers] do NOT get better rewriting or editing.” If you’d seen the first draft of my book – all 215K words – you’d have pulled out a shotgun and blown your own brains all over the toilet you were sitting on after reading only a chapter or two. I thought that draft was ready to be published. It well and truly SUCKED PUS-INFECTED DONKEY BALLS. But, I didn’t know that until I found a crititique partner (and later, MANY more) who gently guided me toward writing enlightenment, which I still haven’t even remotely mastered. I learned tons from her. My writing got better, but it was still not publishable.

    Then I joined a critique group. A shitload of people gave me critiques. Some of them were made from ass pellets of diarrhea-based lifeforms. Some were decent. I took what I learned from the decent critters and applied new knowledge to the manuscript. I entered the book in contests and failed miserably. I got more feedback from other folks, applied it, entered more contests, and started finaling but never won anything. In the last year (I’ve been working on this book since August 1, 2008, btw), I won my first and only contest. A few agents and editors showed interest. My writing is the best it’s ever been, but still has plenty of room to grow. I took a freelance editing gig, and guess what? I learned shitloads about writing by *editing for other people!*

    My point is that *for me* writing is very much an organic process. I jumped the gun way too early in this manuscript’s life. I have *just* gotten to the point where I feel comfortable with the quality, and that’s why I’m finally self-pubbing. I hired an editor, despite the countless critiques because I knew it still wasn’t good enough (In fact, I’m supposed to be working on edits right now, but damn it, you got me riled up! Hahahahaha!).

    Will my book ever be good enough? Nope. But it’s as good as it’s going to get considering where I am on the writing continuum RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I’m ready to move on. I still won’t be happy, but I’ll move on. 🙂

    • Alan Edwards

      The oddest thing about this post, for me, was the number of people who asked if it was because of them or based on them or about them. Honestly, the person I was thinking of isn’t even someone I’ve met or “met” through Twitter. It was one of those tangentional (I made that up, I think) journeys that ended up at someone’s blog and they talked about their 5 year journey and over a dozen (and counting) rounds of editing, and all I could think of was Ralph Ellison. The dude managed one book, considered by many a masterpiece, and never managed to write another piece of fiction again, instead spending his life trying to create the Perfect Book. He died. I imagine a lot of people would have loved to hear more from him.

      And the name of the game is always – Do What Works For You. There’s a reason why one of the tags for this is Shitty Advice. By definition, everything I say is nearly always the wrong thing to do. I was, in a way, playing devil’s advocate to all the long-ass articles about editing and craft and working on the Bestest Novel Evar, to give the viewpoint of, guess what, your first book isn’t the high point of your literary career. It’s the starting point, the lowest and worst you will be as a published writer. So get it over with, heh.

      And everyone learns by reading, as well, so I have no doubt that editing other people’s work is a fantastic way to get a clearer understanding of what works and doesn’t. BUT, I don’t think trying to rehash the same paragraph 62 times helps at all. Forest and trees and all that.

      And I wuvs you too, Kendall. =)

  8. Sara (sarasexpletives)

    Hear Hear! This should be required upon birth.

  9. Creative use of the word Fuck and all it’s variations always wins my attention. Stopped by because I recently purchased Blamers from Smashwords and thought I’d see what kind of insane you had going on outside the world of zombies. 😉

    I think we’ll see a new evolution in authorship since it’s so damn easy for people to put words out there available to the masses. I personally am a word addict, snorting them straight up to the grey matter directly through my eyeballs so I generally will read anything someone can whore out in front of me. If I like it well enough I’ll even pay for another go. The times…they are a changin’.

    Of course, humans are slower to change than technology but eventually it should even out to where we have far too many things to read and I can wallow around naked rubbing my nook color in public. I might be 80 by then, but hey even us old grey mares still need excitement.

    • Alan Edwards

      That’s quite possibly the coolest beginning to a comment ever. For me anyway. I very much appreciate the fact that you stopped by.

      I absolutely agree with you. The times are completely different now. I LOVE books, and I never bought as many as I wanted for 2 reasons: cost, and space to put them (and I’m WAY too lazy to contemplate book swaps and whatnot. Plus, what if I want to read them again?). Now, for 99 cents or 3 bucks I can buy short stories and novels and take them everywhere I go. That’s pretty friggin’ awesome. In 10 years, the eReader may be as ubiquitous as a cell phone. I hope so.

  10. This is a great post. Made me LOL all through it, but your point is well taken. I’m here from Pat’s tweet. I love the comments, too.

    • Alan Edwards

      Heh, I’m glad you stopped by, but much happier that you enjoyed it. I usually write these things for a laugh rather than general frustration or venting, so if you laughed, then I did my job!

  11. I absolutely agree with this. While important, editing is VERY subjective. People have different likes/dislikes. Interests. Perceptions. Do the rounds and get the freakin’ thing into the world. Do it. 😉

    • Alan Edwards

      Yeah! What you said! Heh. I read someone talking about cutting over a thrid of their story because the editor didn’t like it, and I wondered how another editor would feel about it. I think second opinions are fairly important.

  12. “It’s a fact that I made up, and it’s still fucking true.” I want that on a t-shirt.

  1. Pingback: Blog Mash-Up « Patrick Thunstrom's Blog

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