by TWC Director Judith Lindbergh
After years of watching my students develop their novels, a handful are finally ready to submit. I’m thinking of two in particular – you know who you are (and Michelle tells me there are others!) – who have truly worked hard to polish their prose, develop their characters, tighten their plots, gain the insights of early “beta” readers, and then revise and revise again. Their synopses are finished and query letters are polished until they positively shine. And yet, at this critical and nerve-wracking precipice, they are hesitating.
They’ve gone back to their projects, micro-editing every word in search of the one wrong twist of phrase that will send them, not soaring, but tumbling into the abyss.
I feel for them. I get it. I’ve been there myself. But, love you as you know that I truly do, it’s time to jump.
Every writer at virtually every stage in their craft and career questions the quality of their work. As they should. A writer without the ability to see their own flaws and mistakes will never improve. Here’s a wonderful quote from Ira Glass that always comes to mind:
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
After working with all of you for so long, I know you have excellent taste, and together we’ve gotten your work to the point where, as much as anyone can, you’ve nailed it. Now, the tough moment has come to see if your taste is good enough for the gatekeepers.
It’s impossible to guess what will thrill one agent enough to take a chance, especially in these desperate days when the “Big Five” traditional publishers are all focused on the bottom line. I do know that strong writing, characters and voice are critical. And you’ve got that. But then there’s the market. We’ve talked in class ad nauseum about how tough it is. New writers are swimming like salmon against the flow of inevitable rejections. But at this point, striving for perfection isn’t the answer, especially in sight of the long road ahead.
I recently drew up this list in my class and held it up for everyone to see:
- Writer creates
- Writers group critiques
- Revise, Revise
- Beta Readers critique
- Revise, Revise, Revise
- Agent Acquires
- Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise
- Probably another round of Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise
- Editor Acquires
- Revise, Revise, Revise
- Copy Editor
- ARC (bound, uncorrected proofs)
- Final revision
- Critics and readers critique, which, despite all your and everyone else’s incredibly hard work, almost never means universal praise
Though I’m pretty sure I skipped a few revisions, let’s consider where are we on this list: at Step #6. Look how many revisions are yet to come!
So, here’s what I suggest. Life is short, and there are more books in each of you. Trust your good taste. This is the moment when you need to jump. If you know in your heart that you’ve done all you can, that you’ve listened well to your fellow writers and readers, revised so much that you’re sick to death of your beautiful creation, there is only one thing left to do.
Send it out there and see if it sails.