I had the privilege of interviewing Hugh Howey and Robin Sullivan recently on my podcast, and their recurring advice of quality over quantity showed me a new level of patience in making sure I write the best novel I can. In this podcast, Hugh mentions how he didn’t hit it big until Wool (now optioned to 20th Century Fox), his eighth or ninth product. Robin says her husband, Michael J. Sullivan didn’t hit it big until his third novel came out (Riyria Revelations Series). This information can either make you depressed that the road to success is even longer than just the novel you’re working on, or it can make you work extra hard on the work you have so that it will begin the word of mouth praise that you’ll need to make it big by your third or so novel.
I won’t lie and say that their experience didn’t overwhelm me (as I project how long it will be before I can write full-time from home now means I need around three books). However, if you look at that journey like a long open road, you aren’t going to walk with your eyes forward the whole time; you’ll know it is so long that you should enjoy the process, and observe what’s around you as you take each step. In other words, knowing that I want to attain that goal, I have to focus on each step, making sure it’s the right one, or I could sprain my ankle/ get dehydrated / bit by a snake, etc and delay or prevent my journey permanently.
Part of my prescribed task for draft four has been breaking down each scene with notes on each character’s motivations and how the technology is working, or seeming to work. I’m up to Chapter 12 of 30, which is an all right pace for July (though I’ll admit not where I’d like to be–this is hard). I’m already seeing how this work is helping make my characters more interesting. More important, I am forcing myself to make sure every scene has a significant reason for being there, advancing the story in a way that will make this novel stand out among the crowd.
This is mentally exhausting work. But, talking to Robin and Hugh, I see the rewards of hard work because they wouldn’t have a fan base that large if they hadn’t put the legwork into fine-tuning their stories. Robin said that you can publish a thousand pieces, and make a little money from it, but not nearly as much as a fraction of that product of the highest quality. That advice makes me want to take my time working through each scene, and in a way I feel good because putting this book out with confidence in its quality is going to be so much more rewarding than rushing it just to finish it and get back to the easier step of dreaming the next novel.
I’ve already put in two and a half years on this novel. For me to rush the editing by settling for mediocre scenes would be like seeing a scorpion along the way, bending down and puckering up for a kiss. Well, maybe not that drastic, maybe it’s more like training for a marathon by jumping off a two story building. A bad first novel is for an aspiring novelist what two messed up legs are to a marathon runner, you’re self-imposed handicap may be too much to overcome. Take your time, and let the novel you’ve worked so hard on finish strong, so that it can be the foundation for the rest of your career.