The final step is often the hardest. And the bizarre thing, it’s usually the smallest. Thus it is so with accomplishing anything in life, including being a successful writer.
The final step is that last little rung, at the top of the ladder, that feels so far up you might lose your balance if you step up onto it. You’re afraid to go up there…except you know if you do, the view will be breath-taking. Wondrous. Life-defining, even.
So, then, why do so many of us fall at the last hurdle?
If I knew the answer to that, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. But as I want to know, let’s explore what’s going on here.
It’s obvious most of the answer to not taking that last leap stems from fear. A lack of confidence, really. Your personal view of the world informs you on how you react to, and cope with, new situations, and some people just hate change. Not only that, they see it as a form of confrontation so do everything in their power to actively avoid taking the last step.
It’s logical, then, that this is a lack of confidence in themselves and their talent.
With me, it’s even more specific. It’s about the fear of failure. And the fear of success. It’s about what both of these things mean for me and my life, and it may well be the case for you and yours too.
Before that, though, you’ve got a book you’ve re-written many times (as I have with mine), honing it to a slick, deep, fast-paced, emotional rollercoaster adventure. And you might be at the stage you feel it’s ready for submission to agents, which is great. But, lo, don’t be fooled! There’s usually still some more work to do on it. What am I saying? Usually. There’s always more work to do. And it’s at this point that those tiny, final touches you still need to do that can make the fear set in. A fear which brings things to a standstill.
You try to plough onwards, but all you see is a black wall…with no writing on it. A wall that’s telling you: you’re good but you’re not that good. You may as well stop here.
And that’s what you do.
Okay, that’s what I’ve done for months.
So I figured it’s time to face those “last step demons”, admit to where I’ve been at in terms of my writing and acknowledge those final touches are ALL I need to do to my work now. I know the book’s good; I’ve been told it by other people enough times. I know I’ve taken all the other steps up until now, so it’s about time I take this “final” little one.
Which is why I’m so glad that, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be helping brilliant children’s book editor and former editorial director, Maurice Lyon, run an important workshop for The Golden Egg Academy (of which I’m a very proud member and volunteer as an “Egg Buddy” helping to guide 21 other writers on their own paths to success). The workshop’s called “Finishing Touches and Why They Matter”. Pretty self-explanatory really and, as you can tell from this blog, a workshop subject that has arisen spookily at the right time in my pirate book writing project.
And doing the final touches to your book (or music, painting, designs etc) is not only a difficult last step to take, I think it’s a topic often ignored by impatient writers. Many writers – mistakenly – believe it’s best to just get their work “out there” as soon as possible. Of course, it’s not. Learning to write takes time, energy and patience, and being willing to do the final touches to your work sets those apart from those who don’t do them. An agent, publisher and reader can easily tell there’s a higher quality level to those manuscripts that have had those final touches done to them.
Maurice described it in a more poignant, colourful way when I interviewed him for this blog. He said: “Polishing your manuscript is a bit like polishing your car for sale: it won’t make the car go faster or run more smoothly, but it will ensure that a potential buyer won’t be put off taking it for a test drive if it’s the sort of thing they are looking for.”
A clever, concise analogy on the purpose of the final touches: to make your manuscript a lot better. Maurice went on to explain: “Making sure your manuscript is professionally presented will ensure an agent or publisher, who takes an interest in it, is not put off by the thought of having to spend time and money correcting it.
“Properly formatting the text in Word, ensuring it is free of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, and paying attention to consistency of things like the capitalisation of special names – proper nouns – will all mean that the potential purchaser, agent or publisher, won’t be distracted from the sheer power and imagination of your life’s work.”
The way Maurice describes this makes me ridiculously excited to be going to the Final Touches workshop. It’s really got me thinking about the last push on my own manuscript too. My editor – the amazing Bella Pearson – told me recently that one of my main “final touch issues” is [not to do with spelling, grammar and punctuation, although I’m sure these need working on!] with my annoying habit of pre-empting action that’s about to happen, with a short summary of that upcoming action at the start of a paragraph, before I get to the action.
I mean, seriously, just writing that made me feel how annoying that is. I’d hate that if an author did this in a book I’m reading.
But, apparently, it’s a common writerly problem. And I’m currently working on eradicating these, often minute, “what’s coming up next” summaries from my entire book, as I can see doing so will increase the tension throughout. But doing this doesn’t make it less of a challenge; it’s sometimes harder to “see” these issues in your manuscript than you realise.
Nonetheless, for the sake of the book’s quality, I’m willing to spend the time doing all the final touches required. So I’m not in the impatient writer crowd. And I’d advise you not to be either. In fact, when it comes to taking that final step, I’m sure it’d be better to take it alongside other people. I’m sure you find, like me, that stepping outside your comfort zone usually goes better if you do it with like-minded people, either in a workshop, a writer’s crit group or just with trustworthy friends. The act of being supported by a group lessens the fear and emphasises: if they can do it, so can I…!
It’s why I’m looking forward to Maurice’s workshop. Then lots of us can take that last little step together, and make those final touches that will lead to success.