Short is sweet ;-)
I've been slaving away at National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) trying to hit the 50,000 word mark by the end of November. So far, I've written over 19,000 words. Probably all dreck, but it really does get your creativity thrust into high gear. It has also gotten me out of a desperate slump which I fell into early in 2005 due to some poor decisions (don't jump and sign with just any old agent who makes an offer, make sure they are the right agent--my second agent is a wonderful...but that first one...). From 2005 until now, I struggled just to keep my head above water and not just totally give up on writing. I wrote less than 80 pages of new material. Nothing I wrote or worked on seemed to be working, which made me grow more despondant. And of course in that mood, everything I tried to write was awful and I never finished anything. Even getting a new agent didn't cure me because I was terrified that she would "realize" I was useless and drop me. I felt that I was a complete failure as a writer and that I was beating my head against the wall for no reason.
Except I love writing.
But why can't I get published? What is wrong with me? Why did two agents love that one manuscript, but all the editors thought it stank-on-ice? What was wrong?
Along comes NaNoWriMo. I crawled up out of the pit, shook myself off, and started writing. Agonizing. The first few days were total torture. I had to scrape for each pathetic word. But I wrote every day. I've been writing every day, now, for 8 days and yesterday I took a tottering step away from the pit. I got new ideas. My mind leapt ahead to upcoming scenes and dialog I wanted to write, and it was actually sad that I had to go to bed so that I could go to work this morning. (I shouldn't be doing this, either, but...) I wanted to stay up and get those new scenes on paper.
And I had a minor epiphany. I remembered two years ago that whenever I got depressed about writing, if I just put my head down and wrote new stuff, I could work myself out of it. But the key was, I needed to write new stuff. Every day. Not just edit things I wanted to send to my agent. I love editing--it is far easier than scratching my a$s and trying to come up with new material, but the creative part is coming up with the new material--not editing the old--and it is the writing new material that lifts my depression and makes it more manageable.
That's not the epiphany part. Here is the epiphany part.
You have to write new material every day if you want to publish. I mean it. Get your production up. Editing and re-editing something you wrote five years ago is not going to get you published, assuming publication is your goal.
A dear friend of mine wrote for 18 years and couldn't get published. Then, she went to a class and started writing every single day. She started producing manuscripts at a rate of 1 every two months. A year later, one of the new manuscripts snagged an agent. A year after that, she got her first contract for publication. A year after that, she got TWO contracts for a total of SIX books coming out over the next few years. All because she writes constantly. Each manuscript is better than the last because you incorporate all the things you have learned along the way.
I experienced something similar, but dropped the ball. In 2004, I got deadly serious. I wrote two manuscript, and the second one "almost" got a contract. Instead of getting depressed, I wrote a third manuscript in two months. Another "almost". I wrote a fourth in two months. Bingo. I got an agent. The WRONG agent, but an agent. But things didn't work out. I got depressed and thought I was the worst person and writer in the world because of it. I stopped writing new stuff. I tried to keep going, but over the next 18 months, I only wrote one partial manuscript. My agent dropped me. I got a new, better agent WITH THE SAME MANUSCRIPT. She loved it and is still trying to place it although it doesn't look like it is going to work.
But the point is: when I was writing a lot, I was producing BETTER MATERIAL even though it was written more quickly. Because like any other art, practicing makes you BETTER.
Now that I haven't written for a while, I'm rusty. I did finish a new manuscript after 18 months and sent it to my agent, but she is not in love with it like she was that first one. Although I actually do love it. It has a lot of meaning for me and some themes that were important to me, although I suppose others may not see or like them. And, I'm going to get my stuff published--even if it is e-published--I'm determined. But I know now, and I mean really know something: you have to write to get published.
How many times have you heard that? How many times have you just said, well, duh, I know, so what? And you're writing, right? Scribbling in journals, editing that book you wrote five years ago...
That isn't what that advice means. It means you have to write fresh material, and it has to be a story--not that journal stuff. Journal stuff doesn't make you think about the hero's journey, the sequence of events, and all the other elements necessary for a story. That's why you have to write new manuscripts, even if you just write new pages for one hour a day and spend the rest of your time editing other things for submission.
It's the only way if you don't get that first manuscript snapped up (like some authors I know).
If you're determined to get published, then you have to commit yourself to writing new material every day. Or at least 5-6 days a week. Think of it as practicing the piano. Don't let your skills become rusty.