Writing Is Belief

Every novel begins as an idea you believe in. Usually, a really good idea. Humility (real or manufactured: pick one) might keep you from calling it brilliant, but you’ve had good ideas before and this one is a thousand times better than all of those.

This is the book idea that’s going to make you into the author you always knew you were meant to be: a successful* author.

So you sit down (or stand at your standing desk if you’re an overachiever with strong calf muscles) and start writing.

First sentence? Perfect. So incredibly perfect. (Nearly perfect. You’ll fix it later.) First paragraph. Amazing. (Well, mostly. Except for the abundance of adverbs.) First chapter? Nailed it. (The whole thing will have to go when you later realize it’s just backstory.)

Now, on to chapter two.

Chapter two. Chapter…two. Two. Two. Chapter Two. Two is a funny word, isn’t it. Why isn’t it pronounced “twoah”? Oh, right. You’re supposed to be writing.

You can do this. You believe in your book idea. You believe in the story that’s beginning to appear on the page. And you believe in yourself (the force is still strong with you).

You press on.

Chapters three through ten are remarkably decent. Now you’re getting somewhere. This is the story the idea wanted you to write.

Chapter eleven. Hmm…can you just skip chapter eleven? Because it’s not working.

No worries. Chapter twelve is great. Celebrate-with-a-glass-of-wine great. Good thing, too, because thirteen through nineteen are eminently forgettable.

But chapter 20. So. Very. Good. Only. Separating. Words. With. Periods. Gives. It. Proper. Honor. Of course, the new ideas you introduced in chapter 20 will require substantial revision to the rest of the novel, but it’s such a good chapter, the pain will be worth it.

Six months later, you’ve done it. Finished the book that’s going to make you into the author you always knew you were meant to be: an author who finishes things.

Wait, no. A successful author. That’s what you meant, right?

Well, maybe. At the moment, you’re not entirely sure you can write. At. All. Oh, you can finish a story. Yes. You are the champion of finishing stories. And yes, now that you think of it, there are some good moments. But is the plot compelling enough? Do the characters seem believable? Is the pacing sharp or sluggish?

Yes. No. Maybe. Sort of. Probably not. You don’t know.

So you revise. And you revise some more. You get feedback and it breaks your heart and it buoys your spirit and then it breaks your heart again. Three months later you come to a stopping place because there has to be a stopping place, not because you recognize it as a stopping place, and suddenly you’re the author you always knew you were meant to be: an author who edits the work until it’s the best it can be.

Wait. What about the whole “successful” thing?

You’re still not sure about that. The story is better now. Maybe not quite as brilliant as the idea, but much improved from the first draft.

At least you hope it is. Is it?

You need to find more believers. Beta readers? Sure. Why not? Their feedback and support can be invaluable. But what you really want is the Holy Grail of believers: an agent.

So you craft a perfect query** and release it into the wild.

Five minutes later, a rejection appears. Five minutes! Oops, your mistake. That agent isn’t taking queries at the moment.

In the days that follow, more rejections appear, this time from agents who are accepting queries. They just don’t think your book is right for them. Hmm…this isn’t going the way you’d hoped.

Thirty rejections later…

Wait, did you just say “thirty rejections later”? Thirty? What does that mean?

Well, it means one of two things: You’re either 30 rejections closer to being the writer you always knew you were meant to be, or you’re 30 rejections farther away from that dream.

Which will you believe?

Pick one.


*We all define success differently. To some, it might mean simply getting published. To others, it might mean handing a freshly-printed copy of the book to a once-disbelieving spouse. And to still others (those selfish authors without an ounce of actual humility), it might mean selling no less than One Million Copies in the first six months. The definition of success doesn’t matter here – just the belief that feeds it.

**The “perfect query” is a mythical beast, like Bigfoot. I’m just using it here as shorthand for “the best query you can come up with after spending more hours studying the art of query writing than you spent writing the first draft of your novel.”

3 thoughts on “Writing Is Belief

  1. This is a very nice recitation of the steps one takes when writing a novel, but you left out a very important step.

    You left out the step that comes after self-editing and before submitting query letters. You left out the part about finding an editor to get your book ready to be shown to an agent.

    It is a very important step.

    You can add the paragraph about your editor right after the line about how you realize that the story is much improved from the first draft, but you are not sure.

    1. Yeah, I did leave that out. Ironic, since that’s exactly what I do. I’m a big fan of irony, though, so I’ll just leave it as-is and count on people reading these comments to get the whole picture. :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>