Writing fantasy literature, or any kind of literature, is hard work. And as it is often said, the secret of writing consists of “Revision. Revision. And Revision.” Any piece of original writing can be improved with revision. No piece of writing will come out perfect on the first draft, that’s a fact. The human brain just doesn’t work that way. You might get a few choice one-liners in the first draft, but on the whole, it will require reworking it to produce the polished gem you want.
However, in my experience, any piece of writing can be improved upon ad infinitum. This leads to a question: when is the revision process complete? If you insist on perfection, it won’t ever be complete. There must be some point at which the writing can be regarded as “good enough.” Does that mean we are settling for second best? That we’ve given up, because the struggle is beyond our capacity? I don’t think so. It is just a pragmatic way to deal with reality. As one revises over and over again, the manuscript will improve by a smaller and smaller degree each time. At a certain point, the reward (the degree to which the manuscript improves) will be insufficient to justify the effort (all the editing, proofreading, and rewording that goes into it). Determining this is, of course, a matter of skill and experience, and not a function of variables you can plug into some computer or some odd calculus you can do in your head.
Ideally, every writer should have at least one, preferably several, practice readers for their work. For my book “Drasmyr,” I had basically my sister—she’s got an English degree, but spends most of her time taking care of her kids—and a high school buddy who not only has an English degree, but some experience in the field of journalism. I would have liked to have hired a professional editor, but alas, I do not have the finances for that. The book has received several four star and five star reviews, so I think the process was ultimately thorough enough. Still, if I had to do it again, I would hire the editor… even if I had to scrounge for the money. The rule of thumb is: “If you got the dough, hire an editor.” Anyway, it is important to remember that even with the professional editor, the person with the final word on the document is you. You can only make so many changes to a document before you will start getting sick of looking at it over and over again. At this point, you have a choice to make: either publish it as is, or put it aside for a month or two, or even a year, then look at it again with fresh eyes after the allotted time has passed. Regardless, at some point, putting it aside will just turn into wasting time for meager improvements. At this point, just publish it. In today’s day and age it is very easy to do so… well, easier, anyway.
Writing books for aspiring writers are chock full of rules… okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it seems everyone is bent on giving advice to the newbie writer. Some of this advice is right on the mark, but other times it flies astray. The most important rule to remember, I think, is the fact that every writer is different. What works for one writer, might not work for another. For example, one of the most quoted aphorisms for the aspiring writer is “Write every day.” I wish. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not supposed to be a writer, but I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. And I can’t write every day. I’ll go through phases and write consistently for several weeks at a time, then burn out and be unable to function for a week or so. I think, perhaps, the better advice is the advice a writerly friend once gave me: “Do something writerly every day.” Write on those days you can. Read on those days you can’t. Or take a look at poetry to study the economy of word usage. Set a day aside for world building. Another day for development of your craft. Having a varied approach to the discipline can be quite effective. This works much better for me, if for no other reason that it alleviates the stress that comes with the utter conviction that I must write every day. I’ve learned to pace myself somewhat. Keeping that in mind, I’d change the rule to “Write as often as you can.”
The next rule is: “Revision. Revision. Revision.” Don’t ever stop revising. The first draft is never the final draft. You will always be able to improve a piece through revision. And besides, this will probably take up as much of your time as writing, or very close to it. I know it takes me about an hour to complete a rough draft of three pages or so. A typical chapter measures fifteen pages in length, which gives me five hours of typing. Then, I revise the chapter at least four times at about an hour or two for each revision. These are all rough estimates, but it is clear that the time spent editing and revising is comparable to, if not greater than, the time actually spent writing. And that’s a good thing. The more you edit and revise, the more you improve your craft… that’s where the real learning the ins and outs of writing happens.
The next rule is: “Get feedback.” Ideally, you should join a writing group of people whose writing ability is at least comparable to your own, if not superior. That’s the best way to learn—from those who know. Even if you live out in the country, the Internet can provide access to a great deal of writing talent. Just do a search for on-line writing groups.
Next is: “Patience.” If you are going the traditional route, expect to be rejected. Over and over again. It happened to me so often, I just said to heck with it and decided to publish on my own. If you are like me and want to go the self-publishing route, you get to do all the work from writing the manuscript to marketing it. If you don’t have the skills, you will have to develop them.
The final rule is: “Build your reputation.” It can be a little overwhelming at first. Begin with a blog and/or a web-site. Consistently provide value to your site and the followers will come. It’s a time consuming process, but you should devote a certain amount of time each week to marketing and building your reputation. As a general rule, I try to write all my blog entries in advance so I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off when it comes time to publish them. It saves on the stress and blood pressure.
Well, those are five (or is it six?) of the most important rules of writing. Follow those and you’ll be on your way.