Draft 4 is finished and backed-up. Now I have to decide what to do next.

After every pass you’re left thinking that there’s nothing more to do. The story is complete and you can’t see what improvements can be made. Yet the doubts remain. There are passages you have a faint uncertainty about. You need buy-in – either to confirm your fears or to reassure you that it does, in fact, work. So we all know that the best thing to do is to either get outside opinions or – failing that – to leave the manuscript in the bottom of your metaphorical drawer for six months and then return to it afresh.

I’ve run out of beta-readers. There’s no-one left to give me in depth feedback – not, at least, without paying a considerable wadge of cash for Editorial Services. I’ve got to say I’ve never seriously considered this. Maybe I should. After all, you only get one shot with each individual agent/publishing house. I’ve often lamented my impatience; once a piece has disappeared into the electronic ether that option is removed. If – as is likely – that line comes back bare and rejected you have to move on. And if you have a preferred option for representation – a contact, maybe, or someone you hugely admire – the urge to send your work to them as soon as humanly possible is hard to resist.

All this should advertise caution but I’m planning on going on to the submissions route. This is partly because I am, indeed, hugely impatient. I want to get on. I have other books to write, other plans to make. It’s also because money is a finite resource and – even after all I’ve read and all I’ve come to learn – I’m a little sceptical about editorial services and what they can do for you. I shouldn’t be; I’m thinking of offering my own services as proofreader/copy-editor in the future, so I can hardly say this cynicism is well-grounded. Maybe it’s more my own arrogance; that I don’t see what they can do that I myself can’t.

What you know intellectually but feel emotionally is a far more difficult balance than people realise. The heart rules the head far more than we’d like to admit.

So: plans. My next mission is to write a synopsis. This is a skill in itself, and will take a fair amount of swear-based sweatery. After that a proper cover-letter will need to be constructed. And then I’ll have to go back to my opening chapters and ensure they’re absolutely perfect: I’ve twice posted my opening scene on this blog but I’m still not completely confident in it. And the opening is critical: an agent hasn’t got time to plough through reams to find the nugget of talent. You only get a few pages to impress.

This work should take me to Christmas. Then it’s a little break for me as I do the whole family thing. Hopefully this’ll give me a little distance to properly reconsider my plans.

Then the submissions will start to roll.

And then it’ll be time for a change: a chance to re-energise my self-publishing plans and maybe even starting a whole new first draft.

So the whole circus begins again.

On progress

We are an impatient breed. We want results. We want success. And, no matter that we know these things come only after time and toil, we want them now. I see all the stages of editation and read-testing and weeping and re-editing – and repeat to fade – ahead of me. I still want it done. I want it done yesterday.

This isn’t in itself a bad thing. Impatience drives us. It pushes us to do the work, to get this stage done so we can move onto the next task. But it can be counterproductive. Take my one experience with an agent: hearing the changes she advised me to make, determining to crack through them quickly in order to appear professional, and thus producing a shoddy piece of work that ultimately disappointed us both.

There’s a certain trend in writing – most notably NaNoWriMo and its spin-offs – to equate quantity with quality. ‘How to write a bad book quickly’. I’m not knocking it – NaNoWriMo is great for that feeling of accomplishment and out of the raw material a greater thing can be spun. Just don’t mistake means for ends. Get the words down, yes, but don’t expect a publisher to bite your arm off for the rights. Not until you’ve gone through the work again – slower, with different eyes, with deeper soul.

And anyway, what about the pleasure? What about the joy? If you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to produce then you’re running the risk of sucking the life out of the work. And then there’s the paradoxical truth: if your primary motivation is output then you court laziness: the lowest-hanging fruit becomes even more attractive. No point thinking deeply or undertaking a difficult section as your word-count will fall. You become a typist: an infinite monkey, not a writer.

It also means that these challenging sections – where actual thought is required – can give you feelings of failure as you produce less that session. Let me tell you now: you’re writing even if you’re not at a computer. As you stare out of a bus window you’re writing. You’re writing when you do the washing up. Whenever you’re alone and underemployed you’re writing.

Targets are great. Targets – deadlines, self-imposed or external – can drive you forwards, can force you to focus and to get those damn words down. But there will be days when you don’t meet them. There will be days when you have to live your life. Don’t beat yourself up on days like this. It all adds to the rich tapestry of existence – and, ultimately, that will make you a deeper person and give your writing a greater scope. Find the balance.

Most of all you need to enjoy what you do. Otherwise you’ll never produce anything at all.