A lot of people want to know about agents, and I confess I only know what my friends have told me, some of whom are pretty veteran. I’ve found a lot of experienced authors are very willing to share what they know about the industry as a courtesy if you’re willing to ask/listen and read.

Some days I wish there were more hours in the day to read all the research available online to become a better writer and self-advocate. Usually I’m wiped after I write for 4-5 hours. A few times I’ve worked around the clock simply because I gave myself a hard deadline and deep down I knew there was a point where it was good enough for a reasonable chance without my obsessing on every remaining detail. At a point you will know in your heart, your project will be ready to have someone else take the knife to it, and their deep cuts will be more valuable from fresh eyes rather than yet another spell check on your part.

I’m very, very fortunate in that I’ve been given an opportunity to interact with a good agent who specializes in the genre I’m focusing on, so it does happen. The line is in fact live. But I admit I have been silently working away on all my waking free hours, going to seminars, reading, seeking advice from editors, and giving up my weekends and lunch breaks to write for over eight years even to get this far. For over five years I’ve kept to a writing schedule of trying to commit four hours a day once I get home from work. This sort of discipline can burn you out at times, and you’ll definitely want to keep a balance with your mate. But if you find the act of writing rewarding for its own purpose it can also be therapeutic and balancing and remind you of your humanity. If writing becomes your distraction that’s a winning combination, but be careful like any vice to set your boundaries as well.

I decided to continue struggling at writing because it’s one of the few aspects of life where I feel completely rewarded no matter how much I stop sleeping or miss good movies to work on it. There’s a certain level of self-sufficiency in good writing that’s maybe more about the personality of the writer, but I assume this ability for solitude is something integral for writing to progress. It’s sort of strange having this entirely separate career but I’m slowly merging into one concurrent direction. I’ve picked up a lot from the business sector, and this has both inspired me and made me reluctant to start approaching anyone until I felt I’d given 110% of what I could do on my own as a serious effort to writing. I don’t like to do anything half-way. The results have been mixed. I know what I’ve done well, and what needs to be fixed now, which is possibly one of the most discerning skills to hone.

I will say that my writing has increased sharply with my sixth manuscript, and that over the past six months of immersing myself in the local community (forgive the absence) and foraging for whatever tribal wisdom is available, I’ve started to write on a level that makes me confident enough to present my work for review and honest feedback to professionals.

So here’s another quirk I learned…

In theory it’s supposed to look something like this:

“Rewrite formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” — Stephen King

I realize now there was an asterisk somewhere at the bottom, that went something like “* if you are Stephen King.”

As for me, upon suddenly getting attention from an agent, my formula went something like this:

Rewrite formula: 24th Draft = 23rd Draft – 50% ZOMG.

Followed swiftly with:

… oh, wait, I have a better idea for this chapter than when I first began…

…oh, I just read something about (insert esoteric pre-Columbian tribal fact here) that reminds me of (insert modern astrophysics theory here) and would be a really interesting connection to explore as part of (insert adventure story fourth act structure here).

…oh wait, just one more read-through…

When you start finding your own work interesting, you feel both satisfied and deeply, deeply narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. Then you stop being embarrassed because there’s not time among all the other million things you immediately find to correct. This is the efficient humble / jazzed paradigm. I mean, if you hate it, you’re probably right. I was. That explains manuscripts 1-5. Yes, I was working. I was working for number 6.

Then there are details. You can get wrapped up forever in little authentic details, like wine labels and sartorial conventions. Apocryphal Greek and Babylonian philosophical texts… The truth is, you will always find something else interesting to explore, and your work can always be better. This is slow, like watching trees grow in the back yard.

But I found something wonderful happens when you steel yourself and go out there and start shaking the tree. The professional literary community is a fantastic network of people and they want to see good books written and they want to help create them. Sometimes just the act of having an agent get back to you with interest is enough to change the way you look at your work forever and send you in a better direction you didn’t even think about the last time you dusted off that “final” draft.

One thing writers need more than anything are points of reference for what makes a modern manuscript successful. You’ll know when you’re ready to pitch, but be willing to make the best thing you can now, not just the best thing you’ve ever written. Something great might happen – you’ll find the next project you work on will only take a fraction of the time because you’re teaching yourself patterns of successful story creation. It seems like this has a lot in common with music and poetry and programming. As someone who was not a natural at much of anything, and with very high standards to deal with even so, I can assure you getting better does happen. It’s so slow you may not even notice until you’re nearly there – wherever there is for you.

I’m not a musician, but I can imagine the first time you write a really good sonata and you can sit there and amuse yourself with something finally worth sharing – something you’re genuinely proud of creating. For some of us it takes many years.

Oh, and in the mean time, keep going! No promises, and no slacking. Don’t ever be the quarterback who doesn’t touch down because he stops before the white line.

Back to work…

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