Writing can be exciting – when you’re in the zone, on fire and the words just pour out of your fingers into the keyboard, as you write the cool bits you’ve had in your head for a while. When the story comes together in a way you didn’t imagine it would when you first sat down, when it writes itself.  Of course it can also be incredibly dull and frustrating – when you just can’t imagine what comes next, when the expanse of white screen just irritatingly refuses to be filled up with words.  Usually the experience is somewhere in the middle.  I do have days when I feel like each word is being pulled out of my brain with rusty pincers, but I have others when the time flies and I create things easily.

I think Neil Gaiman put it best.

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”

I think that’s spot on.  I really couldn’t say which bits of Pandora Wolfe I wrote easily and which bits cost blood.  Especially since I’ve probably edited it all about twenty times since.

Editing can be horrible, but is often relatively painless, if time consuming.  Lots of people hate the editing bit. Some people love it, but it’s an essential part of writing.  I don’t really mind editing, though it does feel more like work than the initial drafting does. I think it’s a bit like decorating – it takes ages, sometimes bits of it are not a lot of fun – but the end result is (hopefully) something that looks a whole lot better than it did before you started.

They are the writing bits. The good bits. Unfortunately, in my experience, the writing is only a part of it.


I mentioned in my last post that waiting is a big, big, huge part of a writer’s experience.  At first, you’re waiting for friends or family to read your efforts.  You’ve never let anyone read anything you’ve written before and you’re desperate to hear their thoughts.  Of course friends and family are not always the best people to give you feedback as they love you and won’t want to say negative things, but it’s still usually our first audience and waiting for them to finish and tell you what they thought can be agonising.

Then, when you’re sure you’re ready, you start to submit to agents.  One important fact all writers need to know about literary agents is, they’re very very busy.  You want them to read your sample chapters, but what you don’t know is that yours is one of a hundred submissions they got that week.  They’ll get to it, but it takes time.  Because they are spending most of their time (if they’re any good) trying to sell the work of their existing clients, negotiating with publishers, persuading editors to read their clients’ work or going through the fine print of a publishing contract. They’re also reading manuscripts from their existing clients, offering them editorial advice etc.  When they do get to read your sample chapters, they’ll probably do it on the train, over lunch or at home in the evening.  And yours is one of many they get.  For this reason, it can take several months for them to read it and get back to you.  If they like it, they ask for the full manuscript – in which case you will wait some more as they’re still doing all of the above, reading submissions, representing clients, but they’re now trying to read your novel too. This is one reason why you should always submit to several agents.  If you get a knock back, then send it out to someone else.  If they give you feedback, you treat it like gold dust and act on their advice. They work in the industry, they know what they’re talking about. So you go back to the writing phase and make changes before sending it out again.

If you are lucky enough to get an agent to ask you to sign with them, then they may well ask you to make editorial changes. So you dive back into the writing phase.  When that’s finished, you send it back and wait while they find time to read it again.  Yours will be one of several they have on the go at any one time and you will have to wait your turn with the other clients.

When the agent is happy with your manuscript, they then send it out on submission. This is basically like the process you followed sending out your submission to agents, but it’s your agent submitting to publishers, who are often just as busy as the agents are.  Not only that, in order for a publisher to come to a decision on your book, may several people might need to read the book.  Some publishers employ readers, then if they like something an editor will read it, then perhaps a senior editor, then it will need to be discussed with marketing – all before they get back to your agent. This can take a long time, so your agent sends it to multiple publishers.   If a publisher gives you advice, again, treat it like gold dust.  If your book isn’t selling, you may not know why.  Often the response is “we liked it, but not for us” or “we have something too similar” or some such.  This gives you nothing to go on.  If you do get feedback, you take it on board and again, go back to the writing phase.  When you’ve finally finished, you send it back to your agent, who tells you if they think it’s ready to go back out (this is where I am currently.)  If they like it, then it goes back out to submission.

The next phases (according to writer friends) are when a publisher makes you an offer, you then wait while your agent negotiates.  Then they come to agreement and you wait until you get a contract and see what your deal is and an expected release date (usually well over a year hence from getting the contract signed.)

During that period, your book goes through edits with the publisher’s editorial staff.  Back and forth, until they’re happy – though this time you have deadlines. So you wait and wait for your book to come out.  Then finally it does, and you have a book launch. Then you wait to see if it sells (while trying your best to persuade anyone who’ll listen that they should read it.)  While you do that, you’re back to writing – you may have a multiple book deal, or the publisher may have said they want more from you – so you go back to the writing and start again.


This bit is a constant companion.  You worry if the idea’s any good. You worry about aspects of the story. You worry about the characters.  You worry if you’ll ever finish. 

When you finally do finish, the worrying really starts.  Will people like it?  Will they think you’re stupid for even thinking you were good enough? Will they humour you?

No matter how positive your feedback is, you’ll always worry when you know someone else is going to read your book. 

Then you send to agents. These are professionals. They sell books for a living. Will they laugh you out of town for sending them your efforts?  Send back rude feedback?  Well I’ve never had anything but politeness and where there was feedback, it was positive and constructive, but waiting increases the paranoia. Often you get a “thanks but not for me” response.  You then worry that they thought it was terrible but are just being polite. 

Then, when you get an agent – you can’t believe your luck. They’re positive and believe they can sell your book.  But then it takes ages.  You worry.  A lot.  What if your agent is wrong?  What if the publishers think the book is rubbish? Derivative?  Old hat? 

Then you hear that a publisher is interested. There are negotiations. You worry about that.  What if they don’t come to a deal? What if they change their minds?  Then the deal is signed. This means you can now worry whether you can get the edits back by the deadlines.  Have the edits spoiled the book?  Will they like them?  What will the cover look like? What if you hate it?

Finally you get to launch time.  What if nobody comes to the book launch?  You constantly check the sales figures, the ratings on Amazon.  Reviews by bloggers and on Goodreads?  What if you get a horrible review (everyone does – it’s just part of life.) What if it doesn’t sell and earn out its advance?  No publisher will want to touch you again!  But if it does sell and it does make back the advance, you won’t need to worry any more. You’ve made it, right? A published author. Wrong.  Now you worry if your next book will be as good.  You worry if you’ll finish it by the publisher’s deadline and it all starts over again. 


Despite all of those things, all of the writers I know continue to write and couldn’t imagine not doing it.  Does this mean that writers are masochists?  Are they clinically insane?  Possibly, but hey ho. Gotta do something, eh?