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A dishevelled, bearded man sits in his dark kitchen, tip-tapping on his laptop’s keyboard. Well past midnight he attempts his best to muffle the noise each keystroke makes. But, alas, his tired hands strike the typeface too loudly. From the bedroom above a two year old’s cry is faintly heard – swiftly followed by the angry grunts of a well-loved but often put-upon, newly awoken partner. However, despite the ungodly hour, the tired hands (and eyes) and the soon to be angry wife, the man continues his labour; For he is a writer and a single-minded determination is the only way to successfully edit and complete a book.
A slightly less dishevelled, but still bearded man holds a deck of cards in his hands. In front of him sits a watermelon in all its red-pipped, green-skinned glory. Around him a two hundred strong crowd waits with baited breath. All that stands between him and fame is six feet and one minute. Soon a klaxon sounds and it’s his time to shine. Card after card fly from the man’s rugged hands and into the watermelons flesh. Sixty seconds later and success! A near-terrible team loss has been turned into a fighting chance for victory. Team mates rush over to congratulate. But despite their adulation the victorious man feels uncomfortable; for he hates self promotion and despises the lack of control given by such circumstance.
These experiences occurred last year but not quite separately.
In a moment the article changes.
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(Anyone who’s read The River will get the above as an in-joke. How sci-fi – geeky jokes already!)
Concept, First Draft, Edit and Promote
There are four stages to writing. Each is harder than the last and each requires its own unique set of abilities.
First you have your initial Concept. This is just the fun idea stage that anyone can have. What happens if gravity suddenly flipped? What if a star seemingly fell out of the sky and landed by your feet, for you to only find a smashed bulb? What if someone dug up from underneath the ground, met humanity and said ‘uh! I thought no one lived up here?’ Concepts are fun. Concepts are easy. Concepts don’t require much other than a vaguely creative mind.
Secondly you have the First Draft. This is the first test of your concept. What would happen if gravity suddenly flipped? Is the concept really interesting enough to lead into a novel, novella or short story (or humourous cup-based blog post)? Can you truly put yourself in that position and build characters that conceivably lived before and (sometimes) after the event you’ve created? Writing your first draft is still fairly easy. Subplots and characters can come and go as quickly as you can type or highlight and delete. A command of the English language is useful for this stage and an ability to weather the personal storm of creeping concept self-doubt.
Thirdly, and as explained by my first bearded man above, is the Edit stage. This is likely to be the longest stage of writing a book. A thick skin and an open mind is needed as you take criticism and dare delete entire chapters and characters. A single-minded determination to get through this longer-than-the-longest-thing-you-can-think-of (even longer than this) stage is an absolute must. I dread to think how many stories have halted in the editing stage never to see the light of publishing.
Fourthly, and as explained by my card-into-watermelon throwing man above, is the Promote stage. Sadly for most writers, myself included, this requires a totally different set of skills.
Writers are a funny bunch (as this blog can attest to). We love getting lost in worlds of our own making, and if we’re good, really, really good, we can almost convince ourselves that the world created was only ‘found’ by our imaginations but was always there – and possibly is always there, somewhere in the infinite realms of universal possibility. Quite simply, pulling out of this mindset and ‘networking’ in the ‘real’ world isn’t natural and it isn’t that easy!
This last stage is why literary agents exist. With contacts in the business and the know-how about selling your story they’re best placed to take you from the end of the edit stage to successful publishing. But writing is a notoriously difficult business. The vast majority of submissions to literary agents go unanswered and literary agents themselves are bound by what the market wants – even if you have a great story. This murky world often leaves new authors with only one option – to take a stab at the Promote stage themselves, not matter how ill-equipped they are.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender!
Square Peg Round Hole
Attempting to fulfil the Promote stage I’ve set up this blog, entered short story competitions, started writing for other blogs, started official ‘advertising’ and swallowed the curl-up-and-hide emotions which appear when someone asks me about my creative endeavour. This is my attempt at ‘Brand’ building (also know as project Brandy).
None of this is natural (I cringe every time I see the large ‘AndrewJKnight’ at the top of this page), some of it is just difficult (don’t start a conversation with a less-than-fluent-in-English French speaker) and some of it pointless (Facebook advertising) but each is hopefully a step in learning this most terrible of stages and will hopefully lead to a book which is well-read and positively responded to.
Worst of all, unlike the other stages where writers block was an obvious hurdle, this stage throws up emotions and feelings of quitting, giving up and moving on to something else. Sometimes it feels like unless the WordPress Gods shine on you or a literary agent loves your work, all the self-promotion one can muster will simply come to naught.
But for the concepts completed, the characters created, the drafts written and the edits rewritten it would be a disservice to yourself and future readership to stop, give up and throw in the towel. Unlike other stages this one has no defined end, but that doesn’t mean you should stop. As another sci-fi favourite says, ‘Never Give Up, Never Surrender!’