We live in an era of instant gratification, where almost anything we want, at least here in the First World, is available in a blink, like drive-through food or one-click shopping. Our attention spans are shorter, our frustration threshold lower. We squirm when there’s even the smallest line at the ATM, or when our download speeds are a second too slow.
Now consider that it takes millions of years and thousands of pounds of pressure to make a diamond.
Creating anything of value takes time. If you are a writer, especially, you have a huge challenge: to fight against the squirm that comes with the fast pace of modern life. You have to show up every day, plant your butt in the chair, and work. And it might be years before you’re done with that amazing book. But that’s ok. That’s what it takes to get there.
My own personal journey:
I have wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen years old. But I didn’t give myself permission to take this dream seriously until five years ago, when I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and there’s nothing sadder than a dream deferred. I went from dabbling—jotting little scenes in notebooks and taking the odd writing class here and there—to getting more educated, writing practically every day, and getting serious about outputting a respectable word count.
Once I made the transition from dabbler to writer, I became impatient. I wanted instant gratification, to have a book, done, now. I wanted to be out there, getting my work in front of people. But I moved from project to project, searching for my voice, starting by emulating writers I admired, then trying different themes and genres, not knowing what fit me. This process alone took a year, and several abandoned manuscripts. Then I started experimenting, just trying to have fun, and eventually wrote the monologue that became the first few pages of my work in progress, Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress. I put those pages in front of my writer’s group, and they said it was the strongest thing I had ever done, and the voice was uniquely mine, fresh and funny. The experimentation had paid off. It took time, but I had found my calling. I needed to flesh out my concept, and write the rest of the book.
I went to work. After another year, I had banged out a first draft in between working and living. And while I took some first chapters to writing workshops and those were well received, my critique group read the whole thing, and the verdict was that, well, the first draft was shit. Kind of a disaster, actually, but with some heart in the right places. I was still proud that I had finished something, but the more I worked, the more I realized I needed more work. Practice makes perfect, as in, the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell has said is required to attain perfection. So I threw away two-thirds of my manuscript and started again, reworking my plot.
Another year went by, and I had a new draft, one that was leaps and bounds ahead of my last one. As proud as I was of that accomplishment—rewriting it mostly from scratch—I realized I was still only at the beginning of my journey. That draft was more like an artist’s underpainting, the bones of the image and the story. It would require critiquers, beta readers, and an editor to help me see the places where I needed to add emphasis and detail, and bring ideas into focus.
Now, half a year later, I’m still working, addressing all those things in between life and a day job. Every day I learn that I don’t know what I don’t know—something new about writing reveals itself daily. It’s the kind of learning that only comes from doing. Eventually, though, I’ll have to stop and declare this book done. But I’m glad I didn’t rush. The vast improvements have been worth the wait, and I feel like I’m really, really close. I can’t wait to share it with you.