Slow and Steady-ish
It’s no secret: I am a comically slow writer. Always have been, and unless I get my hands on whatever Bradley Cooper was on in Limitless, I always will be.
For the most part, I’ve accepted this. I work at a speed that allows me to avoid burnout while maintaining a full-time career as a magazine writer, which is no small feat. Lately, however, self-doubt has started to creep in. Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to expand my group of writer friends, which is a wonderful thing about 90 percent of the time. But knowing more writers has also let me fall into that pernicious habit: comparison.
As I have drafted and revised and rewritten and re-revised the same project over a period of nearly three years, I’ve watched my extremely talented writer friends write multiple books, take them out into the query trenches, find agents, go on submission, and even get book deals. And while I’m excited to see them succeed, there’s still that little voice in the back of my head asking questions with impossible answers.
“Shouldn’t I be ready by now?”
“Why can’t I get it together like they can?”
“Will I ever be finished with this book?”
It’s the last question that really gets to me. It’s easy to imagine, as my friends write book after book, that one day I’ll be old and gray working on the same manuscript, fine-tuning to get it ready to maybe query one of these days.
The thought really brings me down.
It sneaks up on me every time I choose to go to the gym instead of writing or relax with my favorite TV show instead of working on revisions.
The feeling got worse this spring when fellow mentees in a mentorship program I’m involved in sped through revisions and announced they’d landed with dream agents, all while I felt like I was struggling to push my manuscript out of a mud pit.
I kept thinking, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
Then, I reflected on what my manuscript would look like if I’d just pushed through to try and match someone else’s timeline. Sure, I might have been able to query a version of this manuscript in 2019, but almost everything I love about the book would have been absent. My favorite elements all emerged during my slow-but-steady revision adventure.
My process is all about percolation, and the strongest parts of my books exist because I spent months–and yes, sometimes years–turning over potential solutions in my head.
Recently, I’ve been feeling ready to close out my work on this book and move on to something new. Then, I got a piece of feedback that pulled me back in.
The feedback was insightful and if I implemented it, would tighten up some parts of the book I’ve never been 100 percent happy with. It would also take a lot of work–at my slow pace, at least a few months.
After three years of work, my book is in decent shape. If I disregarded these notes, I could start querying my book in the next couple of weeks, and it would probably be good enough. I would finally get to be part of the group I’m so envious of–a writer with a finished draft.
Even so, after three years of investing in this project, “good enough” isn’t good enough for me, especially when I know exactly what I need to do in order to bring my best book to the table.
So I’m heading back into revisions–draft number five.
If publishing were a tortoise-and-hare metaphor, I would absolutely win the race. But publishing isn’t a race against other writers, and. everyone has their own finish line. I can only hope that working to develop my craft at my own pace, however slow that is, will get me across mine.