Imagine you’re going on a date. It’s someone you’ve fancied for ages, and after finally plucking up the nerve to ask them out for a cheeky Nando’s, the time has come to woo them one-on-one with your wit and charm. How do you prepare for this night of nights? Shower, brush your teeth, wear the most obscure geeky film reference T-shirt in your collection, and wear clean underpants. And then you rush straight out the door, yes?
Of course not. What kind of idiot does that?
We all check our appearance in the mirror, or, better still, ask someone else to check for us, ‘How do I look?’ And it is this wonderful friend who points out that there’s a huge bogey dangling from your left nostril, a massive zit threatening to explode on your chin, or that your flies are undone and your Captain America underoos are exposed of all the world to see.
That person just saved your life. And every writer needs at least one person who will do the same for their work, and yet so many of us will gleefully ejaculate our work into the wild without so much as a second glance.
And I know that feeling all too well. I recently finished a draft of a new book. I’ve been working on it for about 18 months in between script work and writing pitches. It’s been my happy place for all that time. I love the characters, the settings, and the story excites me every time I return to it.
Typing ‘The End’ — a naive act by any writer on their first draft, and yet we all do it — activated that overwhelming impulse to send it out immediately to agents and publishers and everyone in my address book. It’s perfect! I even did a ‘But’ pass…
… I checked for all my usual tropes, I made a timeline, and I even drew a bloody map. Surely it’s ready?
A few years ago I would have succumbed to this seductive urge, but experience has taught me that doing so would have killed the project before the poor wobbly-legged lamb could have staggered to its feet.
Nothing is more likely to wreck a writing project’s chances than sending it out before it’s ready. That agent/publisher/producer is your hot date with Edna Krabappel, and as Sideshow Bob said…
My life was saved by my friend Graeme. I work with Graeme and we’re both writers and we’ll read each other’s stuff and give notes.
I got about five pages of notes from Graeme.
As well as words of encouragement, he confirmed many nagging doubts I had about certain parts of the story, and he also spotted a couple of whopping plot holes that would have almost certainly made me look a complete dingus.
I bought Graeme lunch. It was the least I could do. He wanted the film rights and a co-writer credit, but I could only afford lunch.
I shall rewrite accordingly. And then I shall probably give it to another friend — a fresh pair of eyes — for their opinion. And I suspect yet another rewrite will be on the cards after that. I’m not on a deadline with this. I can afford the luxury of time and I intend to spend it.
So, when will it be ready to send out…?
I was asked this when talking to some third year writing students recently, and the truth is I still don’t know. There usually comes a point where you go completely word blind and can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. So maybe then? Maybe when I run out of Graemes. Eventually, we all run out of Graemes. What I do know is that I’ve not made the error I’ve made so often in the past by sending it out too soon. Edna awaits…