April 19, 2015 by Nathaniel Tower
I began working on my current novel-in-progress over seven years ago. Back in 2013, I made the noble goal to have it finished and sent out to agents and publishers by the end of the year. That didn’t happen. Not even close.
I thought about making the same goal again this year, but then I decided to hold off on such a deadline.
It’s not that I don’t want to finish it. Of all my writing-related pursuits, it’s the one I care about the most at the moment. It’s the one I think has the best chance of success. And it’s often the last thing on my to-do list. Hell, even writing a blog post about not working on the novel is more of a priority for me.
I’ve been sitting on a finished rough draft for almost three years. I’ve decided more than once that it needs to be blown up. Right now, I want to start the whole thing over from scratch. On my last editing attempt, I made it through 50 pages, all the while wavering between this sucks and yeah, this could be pretty damn good.
Why don’t I just sit down and finish it? Why do I constantly put it on the bottom of the to-do list? Why does it sometimes not even make that list?
Maybe I’m terrified it won’t be any good. Or maybe deep down I think I can’t do it. No, I don’t think either of those things are true. I can make this book, and I can make it as good as I want it to be.
I have this terrible fear that someone else is going to release my novel idea before me—most likely in a poorly executed B-level comedy that makes $100 million on opening weekend at the box office.
I want to rush to finish it, not just to have it finished, but to ward off this irrational fear of someone else duplicating the idea (seriously, if someone else puts out a book with the same concept, then my book is dead before I finish it).
Almost everything about publishing seems rushed these days. Every news publisher has to be the first to release a story, which often results in an inferior (or flat-out incorrect) telling. Just last week, ESPN was the first to publish the Aaron Hernandez verdict. In their hastiness, the headline and the body of the article were in slight disagreement:
Things often aren’t much different in the world of big book publishing. Almost every bestseller I read feels like the author slapped together some rushed version of the ending. I often think this wasn’t how this was meant to end. Is everyone just trying to hurry to get the next big thing out there?
As an editor, many of the submissions I receive feel rushed. They feel like first drafts. Do some of these authors place the final period and send it off in the same instant?
I know I have been a bit hasty with a lot of my work. I’ve sent stories out for publication much too soon. To this day, I regret nearly everything about my first published novel. Although I spent three years making it “perfect,” I sent it out long before it was ready. I hadn’t done the right research. I’d just written a story and assumed it was good enough. But I can’t take back what has been published (on the bright side, probably only about a hundred people have actually ready it). At least I can learn from those mistakes.
I do think my current novel has great potential, but it’s certainly not in any such shape right now. Definitely not ready to be a $100 million film. And I’ll probably never get it into that particular shape. In ten or twenty years, it’ll probably get picked up by an indie publisher, maybe with a $500 advance and a 20% royalty. But that’s not why I’m writing it. I’m writing it because it has to be done. It’s my masterpiece (whether anyone else knows it or not).
And that’s why I can’t write it in a hurry.