I’ve been pondering the title of this article. It’s a heavy one, with three monumental words on it: Publish, epic, novel. Which of the three represents the biggest challenge? Well, that’s a big question too. To create and develop an interesting, epic plot. To have the discipline to write the draft until it can be called a novel. To get it published. Wow. There’s persistence behind these tasks. Tons of work behind these words. And much love for the craft of writing.
What does it take to transform the sparkle of an idea into a novel? And how do we know it will grow until it becomes an epic novel? There’s no universal answer here, although, to the first one I would say “persistence”. The acute feeling that this path is the one you want to follow no matter what. And you stick to that gem, your nails sinking into that lonely trunk afloat in the river. To the second one, I would attempt a quiet “we just don’t know”. We write that’s what we do. We work hard and enjoy while we work. Then we follow our hearts wherever they want to get us to. Maybe one day we’ll find ourselves struggling with the possibility of publishing that magnificent story we’ve poured into the pages along the years.
But long before that, before even daring to dream about publishing, some of us have had the desire of writing this novel. A humble, little book containing our ideas and emotions. A story leading the reader from one city to another somewhere in time. It’s the adventure of living a second life while creating and feeling what we are writing. I’ve gone through that journey myself, and I can tell it’s not an easy journey. But the terrible beauty of it resides precisely in the trouble. It’s your creature you are trying to give birth to. And it’s your own pain you will be facing in the intimacy of your desk. That being said, it’s all about persistence, discipline, and enjoying the trip, no matter the results.
To get to any result, though, there are better paths than others.
Somebody who’s been writing for a very long time—I imagine—asked professional editor Wendy Griffin Anderson via the internet if he could ever publish his one-million-word book. Here is part of her answer: “No, you cannot publish such a tome. Probably neither through traditional methods nor through electronic self-publishing. It’s just too big. As an editor, I can tell you that at least 90 percent of the books I’ve edited have required serious pruning. If this is your first draft or even your second, and if it hasn’t been through at least one round with a competent developmental editor, I can guarantee you that the manuscript needs pruning and tightening.”
Ok, fair enough. An enormous amount of work has to be done until you finish the first draft. And then a lot more to finish a second. But isn’t that wonderful? I mean, to have a long-term project, a meaningful purpose to dedicate yourself with love to and it’s not really work. It’s life itself. Everyday a new day. Everyday a new page. One step at a time, Buddhists might say, alluding wisely to the source of inner power.
Griffin Anderson continues: “Here are some tips that I give to my authors: Anywhere you see the words ‘there was,’ ‘there is,’ or ‘there were,’ you probably need to rework the passage. Scrutinize your work for passive constructions. Converting passive to active voice improves the flow and clarity of the story. Be ruthless in excising adjectives. Prune your manuscript. Chop it in half. Then tighten, polish, and prune some more. No agent or acquisitions editor is going to look at a million-word first book. Very few readers would buy it, and I can’t think of any publishing venues equipped to publish it. But they will look at your tightly written, professionally polished manuscript.”
And again. Work. The best-kept secret of good writing. Or, as William Zinsser puts it in On Writing Well: “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
But let’s imagine we’ve walked that long second life road, and we’ve finished our novel. What comes next? Here are some thoughts on publishing that writer Ian Irvine, author of 32 novels including epic fantasy bestselling titles, shared with the world some time ago. “Feel free to write the most beautiful, thought-provoking words in the English language. The public will feel equally free to ignore them. Here’s the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published won’t see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted. What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop won’t sell a single copy there, and most published writers won’t earn anything from their book apart from the advance. So don’t expect anything from your writing apart from the personal fulfillment of having learned your craft and created a work that didn’t exist before.”
In The Truth About Publishing, Irvine shares his experience and knowledge, and expands largely into the details of the difficult publishing industry, but he finalizes with encouraging words. “Anyone who can be discouraged from writing should be. If all this is so disheartening that you plan to give up, you probably weren’t meant to be a writer – you just don’t want it enough. However, if it’s only made you all the more determined, you’ve got a good chance of making it, for it’s the writers who refuse to give up their dream that succeed.”
Personally, I don’t think publishing or not publishing should be the question, for that would mean reducing the unique moment of writing as a means to an end. Let’s focus, instead, in making each instant the most vital moment of all. Live now. Make each word, each sentence the purpose itself.
Paula Arellano Geoffroy is a Chilean writer that lives with her family in the Netherlands. She is also an engineer in forestry, but her true passion resides in working with both creative and technical writing. Always curious, avid reader and a perennial student, she is actually writing articles for different organizations, revising the draft of her first novel, and studying creative non-fiction and professional writing at an American university.