Thursday, October 4, 2012
I think one of the most common questions writers have is: Am I really good enough?
That question is related to these: How do I know if my writing skill is of publishable quality? And how can I tell if my story is something readers and publishers will like?
I remember after I'd finished writing The Preacher's Bride (my first published book), I sat back, stared at the screen, and said to myself, "Is this good enough? Or is it just a bunch of junk?"
I couldn't keep from agonizing. Was I good enough to pursue an agent and publication? Was I ready to get into a critique group and enter contests? What if I was terrible and nobody liked what I'd written?
It was at that point I had a conversation with my very wise mom. And I remember her saying, "What have you got to lose by sending it in?"
She was right. The first step all writers have to take at some point is swallowing that lump of fear and putting our work out there for others to look at.
Yes, that first time we let someone else read our writing, we're filled with embarrassment and anxiety. We can't keep from cringing, waiting for the blow of criticism but desperately hoping for an encouraging pat.
I eventually took that initial step with The Preacher's Bride, even though I was uncertain about letting go. I entered it into a couple of contests and paid for a critique.
And you know what? I survived the experience. I even learned a few things.
I learned that I wasn't God's gift of writing to the world. I still had quite a bit to learn, that in fact I would always need to learn new things.
But I also realized that I didn't totally stink and that I was finally getting close to readiness for publication. I eventually finaled in a national contest for unpublished writers, obtained an agent as a result, and then signed a three book contract.
But did I really have to leave my readiness up to chance? Is there a way for writers to have a modicum of confidence about their work before sending it out? What are some ways we can gauge our readiness for publication?
Obviously, there are no hard, fast rules about when a writer is ready for publication. Every writer has a unique time table, with varying amounts of talent and ability. But in hindsight, I can see that I was more ready for publication than I'd realized because of these three things:
1. Learning the craft of writing over a period of years. Before I wrote The Preacher's Bride, I'd been studying the craft of writing for over a decade. I'd accumulated shelves of reference books. I'd checked out every library book on writing I could get my hands on. And I'd kept notes on all I'd learned, continually reviewing everything.
Not only was I sponge soaking up information about writing, but I was also constantly challenging myself to practice those techniques as I wrote. In other words, I'd already laid a solid foundation well before I wrote The Preacher's Bride.
2. Writing and completing a number of books. I didn't wake up one morning, decide to write a book, and then type up The Preacher's Bride. It was in fact the fifth completed novel I'd written in addition to the few that I'd started but never finished.
I'd had plenty of practice taking a story from a grain of an idea and plotting it all the way to completion. I'd already learned how to shape a character's arc as the story unfolds. And I knew how to structure my book by scenes and sequels. That didn't mean the book was perfect. Far from it. But I'd already worked most of the amateur mistakes out of my system.
3. Keeping a humble and teachable attitude. The sign that we're concerned about our writing being up to par is a very good quality to have. Nowadays, I see far too many writers who are over-confident, who do think they're God's gift to the writing world, and who don't see the need to learn and hone their writing before attempting publication.
If I had to err in my readiness, I'd much rather be too cautious than rush into publication before I'm really ready. If we're impatient the whole world will eventually be able to see that we weren't ready, and we'll possibly do our career more harm than good.
My Summary: Don't rush. Establish a solid foundation of learning, writing, and continuing to grow. And when you've done the hard work of getting ready for publication, then do a test run first by entering contests, getting involved in a critique group, or hiring a freelance editor. Better to get the feedback that you still need to do more work on your book before publication rather than after!
What about you? If you've already published, how did you know you were ready? And if you're uncertain about your readiness for publication, how do you measure up to the three tests I've listed?
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