I have a box in my garage filled with the stuff I used to write when I was a kid. It’s got the story that started it all – the story I wrote for a contest that won me a prize of 50 books (some of which I still have). There are the pencilled stories (with pictures) in an exercise book that I scribbled when I was eight.
There are reams of typed manuscript I wrote as a teenager, all science-fiction, all of them terrible. And not one is going to see the light of day. None. Nada. Zip.
All of them, you see, are learning-curve stuff. Part of the million-word practise all writers have to do before they master the art and craft of it.
And back then, when I wrote it, there wasn’t an Amazon people could publish their hot-off-the-typewriter manuscript to. There was no National Novel Writing Month – the 50,000 word contest to show you can write that much in a month.
Hey, there was no internet.
So there was no temptation to try and publish stuff that, really, wasn’t up to par. It was stuff that was written not to produce a great novel, but to learn how to produce one eventually. It was still written to learn how to write, generally.
That’s why all those manuscripts are going to stay in that box. Trust me.
The problem today, of course, is that a lot of ‘learning curve’ manuscripts don’t. As I say, they’re blasted out into Kindle as soon as ‘The End’ trips off the writers’ fingers on Draft 1. Publishers dread 1 December because they know their inboxes will fill with enquiry letters from hopeful NaNo winners, wanting to get the novel they’ve just dashed off into print. Some, no doubt, have the manuscript attached.
And yes, this happens.
All of it is produced by people who’re still at the first stage of competence – the one where they don’t know enough about the field to know what they don’t know.
The web, in many ways, has democratised publishing; but the result has been a flood of material that should have been left in the author’s metaphorical box in the garage. And it’s drowning the good stuff. A few years back, US author Chuck Wendig called it a ‘shit volcano’. Too right.
My advice? Don’t publish the first thing you write. Or the second. Or the third. Keep at it – do that million-word practise run. Make sure you learn along the way.
But don’t just go with my advice – check out all that’s out there.
You’ll know when you’ve got to that third and fourth step of competence – the one where the ability to write is part of your soul. It bursts on you, gloriously, when you least expect it.
But only after a million words or so.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018