How many hours does it take to write a novel–a good one, a publishable one? How many hours will you have to spend thinking about that story, then actually typing out a draft, and then revising-revising-revising?
Many. Possibly many more than you think.
So the goal is to make those hours count. To be sure what you’re producing is your Best Possible Work–something that has a real shot at making it between an actual cover and not just one you make yourself with bookended pieces of cardboard and some thick yarn.
Here are five things I think any writer can and should do to push themselves into the realm of publishability, and stay there.
1. Create truly novel ideas. Your story concept should be unlike anyone else’s. Sure, most stories can be simmered down to one of a few central known story cores–the love story, the mystery, the buddy story, the family saga, etc…–but your story should still be unique among its peers. How to do this? Don’t settle for your first ideas. Think on plot deeply and those first ideas will become more original, more complex, more finely spun. Throw your story into agitation mode, and soon you’ll find yourself spun out of the box entirely. And that’s exactly where you want to be.
2. Write into the 25th hour. So many writers quit just shy of possible success. You’ve been writing, dribbling sweat and marrow into your manuscript. You’ve received positive rejections. You’ve had one or two calls that were so flipping close they made you bleed frustrated tears into your keyboard. Why can’t you just hit upon a little luck?
Luck comes at the 25th hour, I think. Luck comes to those who persevere, who keep hoping despite tough knocks. Don’t quit. Don’t. Quit.
3. Check your ego in the village– Some may not need a critique partner or group, but I think most writers can benefit by having fresh eyes on their manuscript. Critique is a funny thing though; it’s personality dependent and skill dependent, and you have to trust that the person opining truly wants to see you and your work improve. Be picky. Choose well.
Once you find someone trustworthy, you must be vulnerable to them. Don’t ever be defensive; a sensitive critiquer will notice and may ease off on you to spare your feelings, and you don’t want that to happen. You want truth. You want to know what stands between you and publication.
So listen to critique with your full un-armored body and zero ego. You may feel bruised after the fact, but you still need to say, “Thank you. Anything else? I really want to know.” And mean it. (That’s the extraordinary part.)
4. –but not your gut. You may hear things in critique that you immediately disagree with. Over time–a few hours, days, or weeks–you might change your mind. Sometimes, with musing, you may see an indirect solution to a critique of your story; you may realize, for example, that someone’s complaint re: a character arc can be fixed with a plot tweak.
Listen to your critique partners, but listen twice as hard to your own instinct regarding your story.
5. Learn, baby, learn. You might grow as a writer by reading craft books and/or finely written novels, by taking classes in a community college and/or deciding to pursue your MFA. Whichever way you choose to do it, just do it: Evolve yourself.
Becoming a published writer is part skill, part luck; there are plenty of variables. But you can control some of them. You can push yourself beyond the bounds of what 99% of unpublished writers do. You can create a novel idea. Persevere. You can hear critique–really hear and welcome it–without ego. You can trust your gut. And you can continue to pursue a better you.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s belgianchocolate