Not Now

Not Now

Gallo Winery built a multi-million dollar business on the premise that they will ‘sell no wine before its time.

This is an adage storytellers should take to heart – especially in view of today’s quick-serve environment. Just because it’s possible to write a novel and get it into e-book format in short order doesn’t mean it should be done.

I know what it’s like to have a character or story brimming with so much promise that it’s agony to keep it under wraps. I’ve had stories burn holes through my eye sockets, same as any other writer.

But part of earning Writer Credibility is understanding the importance of holding onto that gob of brilliant story goo just a bit longer so that it’s properly steeped in storytelling mystique and able to nimbly hurdle the quizzical claws of beta readers and proof-readers alike before it’s blasted across the cosmos.

 

WHY WAIT?

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Learning to cultivate patience as part of your Writing Life skill set isn’t easy. And I’m a pretty unlikely spokesperson for patience, seeing how I haven’t yet mastered it myself – but over the past year, I’ve learned to utilize its power to strengthen my Writing Life.

Recognizing that a project should be put aside so that we can get fresh perspective or the time to properly develop it or scrap it altogether takes an awful lot of brass, but if we can get to that point, the payoff is worth it.

I learned that lesson hard way. I’ll break it down for you in two words: over-extended myself. And in the fallout, I had no choice but to hold fast to what paid the rent and let everything else fall by the wayside.

I couldn’t very well explain to a client that I missed her manuscript deadline because I was honing a character sketch or blogging about the splendid uses of cow manure.

So what happened to the personal projects I left on the wayside while editing lectures and rerouting speaker agendas and mass printing workbooks?

They marinated, those clever little monkeys! Their bald spots filled in and their claws grew sharp and their mouths as wicked as conga-line junkies.

You see, while my little story creatures were holed up in their Misfit Hideaway awaiting my return, my Creative Subconscious goaded them into painting on the walls and planting gardens and flirting over the fences.

Which meant that when I pulled them out into the daylight again, my Creative Psyche could go right to work, quickly assessing the nuances of what had blossomed and what remained to be created – the chinks that could be bridged, the pock marks that could be smoothed over, the knots that could be untangled.

In the end, every one of those pieces flourished beyond my initial hopes – and all because they were set aside for a time.

REASONS TO WAIT – SOME EXAMPLES 

(1) PRIORITIES – Sometimes a project gets taken out by friendly fire. That is, we have too many tea kettles going at once and one or another is bound to boil dry. If a story or character is worth the time to write, then we must afford them the courtesy of writing them right – and part of that process is allowing them sufficient time to develop.

(2) SIZE – Sometimes a project is too big to be rushed. Last year I bit off a chunk of novel that no seasoned writer in his right mind (or left mind, for that matter!) would have tackled inside a year. Both of us – the novel and I – paid heavily for my ludicrous optimism. The hard truth is that every last word of the 70k must be scrapped. That, my friends, is a jagged pill to swallow.

(3) TIMING – Sometimes a project is solid, a thing of loveliness, admired by the gods themselves, but the venue isn’t right for it. This year I very nearly threw a wonderful short story on the Alter of Obligation in exchange for a publishing credit – and I shudder to think of the creative repercussions I’d have suffered if I hadn’t come to my senses before it was too late. Publishing for publication’s sake is folly, plain and simple. Do what’s right for the writing, not what’s good for the ego or the pressure of adoring fans or pitchfork waving agents or publishers.

Think back to my premise: the wine company not selling a product before it’s time.

Now envision the practice of wine connoisseurs allowing the bottle to breathe before serving.

With that in mind, let us vow, here and now, to apply that analogy to our storytelling

Hear us, oh ye Bastions of Literary Elitism! We will bring you to your knees with our inimitable style, wicked prose and quiversful of patience.

LEARN TO EMBRACE THE STORY VETTING PROCESS

Vetting is a process of examination and evaluation based on a thorough background check.

For Example:

  • Politicians are vetted (kindly swallow those guffaws)
  • Ships are vetted before leaving port or taking on charters
  • Software is vetted before being released to the target market

How does vetting apply to storytellers?

It’s natural for us to want to share our stories with family, friends and fans when we’re under the euphoria of having just completed a dreamy or steamy or otherwise fabulous story.

Even if we could exercise a little self-control on that front, there’s such terrible public pressure to produce stuff. Immediately. Regularly. Cheaply.

On-demand can take on a whole new meaning – IF WE LET IT.

But we do ourselves, our stories and our readers a disservice when we rush along at break-neck speed with little thought of anything more than making a dozen or so ninety-nine cent sales or proving that we can negotiate the publishing process or showing noxious Aunt Hildy that her miserly disapproval of our writing vocation was hideously unjustified.

Every story – whether it’s 500 words or 150,000 words – should be (dare I say ‘deserves to be’) vetted before it’s sent skittering down the yellow brick road with stars in its eyes.

Why? All the better to weed out stereotypical characters and spineless plots and substandard narrative and sloppy dialogue.

SO – you finished a story, did ya? And it’s a doozy if you do say so yourself?

Well, then, now’s the time to gather a wagon-train of storytelling veterans round about you and lay your little starry-eyed dream of a story bare before them so they can do their worst – in order that you might do your best.

  • Find beta readers.
  • Call on that old creative writing teacher.
  • Ferret out a burgeoning English major at the local junior college.
  • Join a critique group.

Doesn’t matter who or how – only that you DO.

  • Do find someone who has a working knowledge of grammar.
  • Do find someone who is familiar with basic story structure and elements.
  • Do find someone who has an ear for language and voice and style.

It’s gonna take some time to develop your own vetting process. Keep at it until something clicks. And then keep at it. It’s part of the gig now. And after all, that’s what you want, isn’t it? To be a part of the Brotherhood of Paper and Ink?!

And when their part is done, those sharp beaked nitpickers, and they hand STORY back to you all marked up with red like plastic surgery gone horribly awry, remember this one small thing: you are the creator, and by god, if they’ve sliced up your creation like deranged ninjas in a pumpkin carving competition, you have some options at your disposal for dealing with the aftermath.

  • You can snivel over the unfair criticism like a superhero whose leotard is two sizes too tight.
  • You can blame your shortcomings as a writer on the weather, on the economy or on global warming.
  • You can show respect for your mentors and grow exponentially as a writer by growing a pair, sharpening your blade and killing your damn story darlings post-haste.

Please Note: There are rare occasions when the Voices of Reason are rife with shite – and should you find yourself in those circumstances, surrounded by mentors who have momentarily become buffoons, your Writer’s Birthright entitles you to protect your work by whatever means available. No one gets a free pass to bully STORY.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. [Dutch Proverb]

If there was a single thing I could tuck into your Writing Life lunchbox come January 1st, it would be a generous serving of NOT NOW.

Not Now isn’t a death sentence, although it may feel like that as we’re going through it. If it helps, we can think of it as Not Until, as in, we will not push our darlings out into the cold cruel world until they learn how to zip up their coats by themselves.

Not Now is the difference between ‘okay’ and ‘knock-your-friggin’-socks-off’ stories. In its most basic form, Not Now means subjecting our stories to the eyes and opinions of a select group of outsiders for the sole purpose of vetting the work.

Not Now is about learning to submit ourselves to the process of stepping back, allowing the work to breathe a while so that we can get some fresh perspective. In short, it’s about doing everything in our power to give story the best possible chance to thrive in today’s overcrowded and ever-changing literary climate.

By the power of NOT NOW:

(1) You will build a better reputation as a writer

(2) Your will build a better bond with readers

(3) Your Story will flourish. You remember STORY, right?! It’s the reason you sat down at the desk in the first place. Story was a fire in your bones, a spring in your step, a glimmer in your eye, so don’t you owe it your very best effort, your whole heart, your Hail Mary?!

Repeat after me: I WILL PRINT NO STORY BEFORE IT’S TIME!