Monday, February 11, 2013

The Creative Vs. The Necessary

For a very long time I told myself that I was going to finish my first novel, hit the querying hard and finally get my fiction writing career off the ground. Surely it would be that simple.

I finished the first draft of a 96,000 word dark fantasy - which is an accomplishment in itself. It may not sound like much to someone who has never sat down to write out an entire novel, but trust me when I say it is a lot of work. There are days when you want to stop and walk away but you can't. You have to keep the story moving. Procrastination can end a career before it has a chance to begin.

After finishing the first draft, the work is really only just beginning. If you don't have the cash to hire a professional editor, then you're going to have to do it all yourself. That means reading through every chapter not once, not twice, not even three times but as many times as it takes to completely polish and perfect it.

One thing I have learned is that when I think a chapter is ready to go - it's not. I self-published a couple small dog care and training guides a while back (search for Shel Gatto on Amazon if you want to see what I'm talking about -they are quite short). These were relatively basic layouts with many photos. Being someone who is not trained in design of any kind, getting the layout to work was challenging enough. I spent hours resizing all my photos, adding a narrow border and getting them onto each page so they didn't fall off the side or shift the text in an unappealing way.

Then there was the text part. I went through each book a number of times. When I finally stopped finding typos, I thought it was safe to start selling. One of the biggest problems I have found is that the content gets "hot." I don't know why, but I have always associated this with a temperature. A new book is cold. I haven't read it and I don't know what's in it. It is new and exciting - even refreshing. Reading through it makes the words familiar or "warm." Going over the same text a number of times eventually makes it feel "hot" each time I return to it.

When the text becomes hot, it gets much harder to see typos. It's a weird phenomenon but one that is very much there. Waiting a while to go over each chapter again can help, but that means a lot more down time which is not easy to swallow for a new author who's chomping at the bit. It's a matter of being too close to the text while trying to satisfy the drive to finish it.

I found a few errors after my initial uploads. They were relatively minor, but when you're selling something you want it to be 100% perfect. So I go through the process again, reading and reuploading and waiting for approvals only to find later that I still missed a couple things. I repeated this a few times before I felt that the books truly were ready to go.

Why do I bother explaining all this?  I think it's important to understand just how long, tedious and frustrating the writing process can be. It is not simply a matter of sitting down, typing out the words then presenting it to the world.  For the average person, this endeavor is even more intimidating when you must continue making money in the meantime.

Despite all the heartache, it is totally worth it. There is a unique sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a personal project like this. I believe that every author puts a little piece of themselves into each page. Scattered ideas and concepts are gently gathered and nurtured into something worthwhile and original. It's one of the best feelings a human being can experience.

They say money can't buy happiness. I can fully agree. I am at my happiest when I finish a creative project. The problem is that money does make life much more comfortable. I think the key is to find a way to balance the necessary and the creative until you can push the creative to the forefront and it becomes purely necessary.

Don't forget to savor the emotions and experiences felt as you overcome the obstacles that come between you and your goals. You never know when something might trigger an idea that can be used later. Edgar Allan Poe said it best::

"Sensations are the great things, after all. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations; they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet."

The road is long, winding and sometimes it seems to end and you must venture out and find it again on your own. It's not an easy journey but it is one worth taking. You may get started just to see what lies at the other end of the path only to find that there is a lot of breathtaking scenery to admire along the way.

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