Written by A Guest Author July 3rd, 2019

Advice for a Writer Yet to Finish Their First Manuscript

Being at the start of your journey as a writer can feel very daunting. An Authors Publish reader wrote to me recently and asked what advice I would give to someone with a first book in draft. She was unsure whether to focus on finishing her novel or if concentrating on placing shorter pieces made more sense. She also wondered where honing her social media presence and seeking enhanced name recognition should rank in the order of priorities for a new author.

There are no right answers. As writers our choices are what empower us. There are as many ways to take our work and our brand forward as there are combinations of letters on a keyboard. However, as I thought about the questions, I landed on three main suggestions.

  • Finish your book

No book is ever really finished so much as abandoned. Paul Valery originally shared this thought in relation to a poem and Harry Crews furthered it by saying: “I’ve had any number of novels where I’ve at some point said to myself, well, unless you’re going to make the career out of this book – spend the rest of your goddam life chewing on it – you might as well package it up and send it on to New York. Because between conception and execution there is a void… The conception never gets translated to the page. It just doesn’t...”

For all of us, we reach a point where it is time for what we make to be abandoned. The words we live with privately for so long, eventually need to leave our computer screen and be shared with others. Nothing is scarier. What if the story that is so precious to us is rejected? It is possible of course. Never finishing is a pretty sure fire way of avoiding disappointment. It is also the way to stand still. Until your first book is resolved there might never be another.

Wherever you are with your first novel, challenge yourself as to what it might take to get it out there. Take concrete steps, however small. Be sure that anything else you take on as a writer is not simply a form of displacement activity. Your book is your voice, believe enough in yourself to let it be heard. The difference between a writer and someone who wants to write is often no more than a determination to finish.

  • There are so many opportunities to write

There is room for parallel projects if taken on for the right reasons. If you have a feel for what you are going to do to finish your book, it might be that you also have the capacity to take on other writing assignments. The pages of Authors Publish are full of opportunities for all of us to reach potential readers. Perhaps it is important not to spread ourselves too thin. We are generally at our best when we write on topics that inspire us. Be selective, especially when you are just getting going. Be prepared not to enter that short story competition if it means your novel will languish for yet another month, if that would secretly have been your reason for competing.

Equally, a short, planned break to do something different can mean you revisit your book with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh perspective. For all of us, the right balance will vary, but at least be conscious of the choices you are making. Time is the most precious commodity any of us have and it is finite. Wherever you chose to pitch, do so because you are passionate about the opportunity, not because you feel you ought to or you see it as a way of hiding from your book.

  • Social media in the early days is most probably overrated

Social media can be both liberating and a drain on a new writer’s time. An ability to send posts into the ether at the touch of a button is both exhilarating and double edged. If these posts are going to form your first steps as a writer, tread carefully and review your content rigorously.

Blogs can be amazing, but need time and planning to get right. Always weigh up how much creative energy they warrant relative to the other opportunities out there.

Perhaps there are some name recognition benefits that will accrue from a strong social media presence. It might well demonstrate to a publisher that you have a following. However, ultimately you will be judged not on your tweets or hits, but the substantive work you produce, so do not lose sight of this.

Final thoughts

Many new (and not so new) writers can be daunted by the modern publishing world. The eclectic array of choices we face all have the potential to be enabling, but each draws on our limited time. To the lady who wrote to me, I would say above all else, finish that book.

Then, ready yourself to write the next one. Everything else will no doubt fall into place. We are all of us destined to write our stories, one word at a time.

Bio: Ben Graff is the author of Find Another Place and is currently writing his second novel, The Greenbecker Gambit. He is a freelance writer for a number of publications. You can see his LinkedIn page here

The Writers Workshop at Authors Publish occasionally hosts a novel publishing course. If you are interested, you can learn more here.


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