I know writers do it all the time, master the turnaround from draft to publication so that the process is much more efficient. I did it back in my fanfic days, when the standards for posting fic were different than the standards for posting original work, because you were amateur. The amateur status forgave many sins of the beginner.
When I was a kid, I could make a Tootsie Roll last by treating it like hard candy. Ironically—or perhaps not so ironically—as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown less patient. Yet my standards for putting my work out require me to take my time, even if I don’t want to. I’m a perfectionist and a control freak. They’re both qualities that led me to pursue self-publishing, but they certainly do nothing for my impatience.
Moving from amateur to professional changed my standards. I write a thing. I set it aside for at least a month, and more often than not, about six months to a year before I pick it up again. That lets me distance myself from it, forget a few things, and approach it with fresher eyes after my alpha reader’s gone through it. Then I edit the crap out of it. Then I set it aside again. Then I look over how the edits changed the look and feel of the narration and dialogue, and I edit again. Then I set it aside again. Then I edit again. In between all of this, I’m usually working on other projects, but part of me is always with a finished story, working on it in my subconscious. Only when I think it’s publishable do I even consider sending it to a professional editor.
And finding a professional editor that’s right for me has been more work than I thought it would be, given the number of writers who recommend their editors. Once I settle on an editor or editors, I’ll go through their edit. Then I’ll set it aside again. Then I’ll do at least one final sweep and proofread.
Then I’ll send the book to the formatter. Only after that will I submit the book. That’s not even getting into the cover art/designer side of the equation, or the promotion plans, both of which I can work on in tandem with the writing/editing side.
To give you an idea of the timeline we’re talking about, I wrote Thorns in 2012. It’s probably not going to get published until late January/early February 2018. So much for quick turnaround.
I’m chomping at the bit for Thorns to be released, but not until it’s ready. Not until it’s right. Not until it’s as close to perfect as I’m capable of making it.
And isn’t that just the crux of the matter. Because there is no perfect. There will never be perfect. I’ll always come up short against my own standard, and an objective measure of writing quality is a foggy notion at best. If you don’t like a piece of art, it wasn’t made for you. Poor quality art can still be enjoyed by millions, which brings into question the designation ‘poor quality’ in the first place—because the art did what it was supposed to do, tap into something inside people and make them respond.
In most other parts of my life, I have ways to measure my success or failure and the quality of my actions, usually through some metric of quantity. In art, quantity doesn’t imply quality. I have nothing I can measure, and after a certain point, that takes quality control out of my hands. I can control spelling, grammar, punctuation, pacing, word choice. I can’t control how readers react to the story. That’s the indefinable skill that differentiates a good writer from a mediocre one. I certainly can’t anticipate readers’ enjoyment or engagement based on my own positive reaction to my stories. Mediocre writers entertain themselves, too.
The only solution available to me is to surround myself with people I can trust to tell me when something doesn’t work, but sometimes it’s a delicate balance to make sure that person is also the kind of person meant to enjoy the kinds of things you write. And deciding whether the reason you accept or reject them isn’t because they like or hate your writing. And determining whether your ego or your instinct is driving your decisions to take or leave their criticism. I can never tell whether I’m overconfident or underconfident, whether I’m second-guessing myself too much or too little. Sometimes, I’m a Professional Writer. Other times, I’ve got a serious case of Imposter Syndrome.
But here I am, willing to put my work out there through self-publishing, where the responsibility and consequences fall on me. If people react badly, all the egg hits my face and no one else’s. I’m impatient, with Thorns having been with me for five years and Nocturne having been with me for thirteen (a young adult book I wrote back when I was a young adult). Publishing’s a slow process, though in theory, the digital revolution was supposed to change that, right? But I’ve got some serious jitters, man, and a pathological fear of failure (although you’d think I’d be used to it by now).
There’s no way to objectively know it’s good. These are the things that keep me up at night.