I’m currently in the middle of editing my Persian-esque fantasy The Wizard’s Heart for the umpteenth time, and as I slog through yet another revision, slaying info-dumps and bleeding life into new, hopefully better scenes, I am reminded of the optimistic writer that thought this book was ready for publication four years ago.
I had just wrote “The End” on my first ever novel, a complete book of 50,000 words, that I wrote over the course of my final semester in college and finished the following summer. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment that comes with writing “The End” on a project, especially for the first time ever, but the horrible, soul-sucking truth is that “The End” is only the beginning.
That young, naïve writer, just out of college with completed manuscript in hand, thought that getting a book published was no more difficult than submitting a batch of queries and waiting for the book to hit shelves. I knew that I had an amazing book, and it would only take a short matter of time to find an agent to sign with, and then a publisher—three book deal and movie contract just around the corner.
I obviously had no delusions whatsoever.
I polished the manuscript until it was grammar-perfect, and then I started querying. I sent out maybe thirty or forty queries, and I even heard back from two agents. One wanted a partial, and the other, a full. My dream was coming true, just like I knew it would.
But then the rejections came.
I cried, I think. (It’s a fair assumption. I cry about a lot of things.)
And then I tried rewriting the book.
This was back before self-publishing was a thing, and I’m glad, because I would have self-published a shoddy book out of frustration with the traditional industry. My only option was to rewrite and try again.
The second version of the book was maybe a whole 25,000 words before I finally gave up on rewriting the story. It was so much work trying to fix something that I didn’t know how to fix. School had taught me that editing was nothing more than rewriting sentences. I knew nothing about character, plot, theme—none of it. Thanks, Creative Writing degree.
So I gave up on The Wizard’s Heart and moved on. I needed to learn more. Writing 50,000 words of structurally correct sentences wasn’t enough. I needed to learn about characterization (which was a specific complaint of one agent). I needed to learn about plot and building theme and creating a believable world. I needed to learn how to tell stories.
So I read.
And read and read and read. Book after book after book. Learning the craft of writing, from characterization books and conflict workshops to plotting how-tos and blog posts on world-building and plot structures. I devoured anything and everything fiction writing. I think I learned more about storytelling in a six month period than I did in all the hours I invested into my Creative Writing degree. I wrote another book and a half. I read some more.
And two years later, I tried again.
After seriously studying the craft and finishing another book, I decided it was time to try to bring The Wizard’s Heart to life again, this time better than before.
I started from scratch, keeping only the core story and characters. I was determined to write it better, to avoid all the pitfalls I ran into in the first draft. And so the third version of the novel was born.
After three months of drafting, I finished the book, and it was better! It was darker, more nuanced, with stronger characters and a tighter plot. And to avoid making the mistake of thinking that it was ready to publish when it wasn’t, I hired a developmental editor.
Who immediately ripped the book to shreds.
I cried again.
And I quit.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I quit. Again.
The prospect of revising the book yet again was too much for me. I had put so much of myself into this version of the novel, and I believed, truly believed, that I had written something fantastic, that I had finally achieved a level of engaging storytelling that might possibly lead me to bestsellerdom, and then to have someone tell me that it was pretty much crap was like a knife through my chest. I was a joke. My writing was garbage. Why did I ever think that I was talented enough to make a career of novel writing?
I had planned to publish the book in May of 2013, thinking I would have it ready in time, editor, beta-readers, proofreader and all. But no. It wasn’t ready. It wasn’t close to ready. And I gave up.
But I was determined to publish.
The following January, the beginning of 2014, with a heart full of hope and a brand new baby in my lap, I started on the next draft. Once again, I put everything I had into that novel, shaping it into a better book than it was before. And when I thought it was ready, I revised it again. I was proud of it. It was the best thing I had written to date, and I was proud of that. I would have been proud to publish, and I even postulated a May 2014 date, but as you might have guessed by now… it wasn’t ready yet. I sent it to the same developmental editor and a team of beta-readers, and once again, every flaw, every mistake, every poor execution of character and plot was laid out before me, pointed out and criticized.
More crying ensued.
I started to fear that the book would never be publishable. I was afraid that I was incapable of writing fantasy. My steampunk novel and associated novella did well enough, but steampunk being such a niche market makes it easier to stand out and succeed. Fantasy is the hulking monster in the corner that eats unicorn babies for breakfast, and as much as I love to read it, maybe, the truth was that I couldn’t write it.
I wanted to give up again. I wanted to forget that I ever wrote the book, just write off the twenty odd months I spent working on it as a lesson in how not to write a book. Part of me wanted to say screw it and publish it anyway, and I even declared my intention to publish the book without doing another major revision. It was too much work, too much stress, and I was thoroughly sick of working on it. I was tired of revising. I just wanted to be done and move on to the next thing.
But I didn’t.
I chose to suck it up and start the next draft, make the book the best it could be. I had to believe I could do it. If I gave up now, what would stop me from giving up in the future?
Sometimes, while I’m staring at the document, completely drained of creativity and wishing I could set fire to my computer screen, I wonder if I made a mistake. I wonder if maybe I should have given up, if I should have just published the book and wiped my hands of it. It was a good enough book. It wasn’t great, but it was decent, an enjoyable read for a few bucks. I could have been happy with it, proud of it. Deep down, I would have known that I could have made the book better, but books can always be improved, so it wouldn’t have bothered me much. Sometimes, I still think of publishing it. Just scrapping the current draft and publishing the one that I sent to beta-readers.
I wonder if I’m really even making the book any better at this point. Part of me fears that I’m just changing things, that I’m editing for the sake of editing because I’m afraid to publish. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid of people not liking the book—not just disliking it but hating it, or worse, finding it meh.
But still I edit. Day after day.
I keep doing this because I have some vague hope that the book will turn out better than before, and I’ll find success with it as a result. I want to believe that. I have to believe that. Or all this work has been for nothing.
I think I’m going to go cry now.
Don’t mind the water spots on my manuscript.