Please welcome Daniel Polansky, author of the new Low Town noir fantasy trilogy! (published as The Straight Razor Cure in UK & Commonwealth)
On the writing of Low Town, by Daniel Polansky
It starts with: can you write 1,000 words today? Also tomorrow, and the day after. They don’t have to be gold, but you’ve got to get them down. Do it long enough and it becomes habit—you get irritable when you don’t hit your quota.
A few months pass and there’s a .doc file weighing down your hard drive. It begins to dawn on you that all these words ought to be adding up to something. Fool that you are, you didn’t bother with an outline when you started, but you’ve got a direction in mind, and you massage what you have into something resembling a narrative and plug onward.
More months go by. One day you ain’t got no more to write. It’s kind of a big day, or at least you think it is at the time. I finished my last line, quit my job, broke up with my girlfriend and moved out of my apartment. You might decide to make less drastic alterations to your life.
You’ve got a draft—congratulations, you’re a tiny, tiny fraction of the way there. Revising is more difficult than writing, way more difficult, and utterly uninspiring—but it’s absolutely necessary, because as it turns out, a lot of those words you wrote aren’t any good, and there are probably far too many of them. Some days you wake up and feel all right about this thing that has become your life. Other days it makes you literally sick to look at the drivel. You begin to conceive of a certain appreciation for a theoretical negative reviewer—no one could possibly be more cognizant of your failures as a writer than you are. The whole thing takes longer than you’d planned, but you keep going anyway. I hid in a cabin for about two months while I made my first set of revisions. By the time it was over I was (charitably) half-insane, so maybe you ought to take a different tact.
At this point you’ve logged maybe 1200 hours into your book and no one has seen it—it’s gestated entirely in darkness. You send it out to a few close friends. Some of them read it, some of them don’t—it’s a kindness to slog through your half-mangled prose, and reading on a computer sucks, so you can’t really hold it against anyone if they don’t manage to finish. Hopefully the ones who do tell you it’s not completely terrible.
Now it’s time to get an agent. Getting an agent is a long and intensely tedious process. You track down people who might want to read your book, and you send them a letter begging them to do so. No one actually wants to read your book, but you don’t know that yet. Rather than wait around for my rejection letters to multiply, I took my tiny little pot of money and went traveling, but that’s just me.
Mostly, it stops there. At some point there’s no one left, and you move on to the next book or give up entirely.
But let’s assume it doesn’t, and out of that stack of refusals, you find someone willing to give you a shot. Kudos, you’ve got an agent. Hopefully it’s a good one—you won’t really know because you’ve never had an agent and thus have nothing to compare them to. My agent ended up being great, but that was luck—it wasn’t like I had lots of options.
Your new agent has some suggestions, and despite all the work you’ve done on your book, it needs a lot more. So you get back to your revisions. This second round of revisions is like the first, but somehow slightly more miserable.
Eventually you and your agent decide it’s time to start talking to publishers. Getting a publisher is a lot like getting an agent, except that now you have an agent, and he or she does all the grunt work, which is nice. At this point I was well out of money, and had resorted to selling bodily fluids to stay afloat. Not really.
Again, for most folk, this is a breaking point—let’s continue on without a hiccup. Low and behold, a group of business folk somewhere go a little too heavy on their liquid lunch and decide, what the hell, they’re going to buy your book. Boo-yah! A scant sixteen months after starting, you’re going to see some money! Not right away, of course—you’ve got a few more months of sleeping on cardboard, but still, good job!
Your new editor wants changes, and with your pockets full for the first time in who knows how long, you aren’t in any sort of mood to argue. Mostly the ideas are good, if you’ve got a good editor, which I do. Sometimes the ideas are bad, and you refuse to consider them, and your editor backs off. Your editor also does the first really thorough line edit of your book, during which you discover that you know relatively little about grammar and you can’t spell for shit. (A short list of words I can’t spell correctly: necessary, waved vs. waived, taught vs. taut.)
Something else happens at about this stage—your ownership of the work, at one point absolute, begins to diminish. Strangers design the cover art, people you’ve never met copy edit it and start working on the press. It’s become an enterprise of which you’re a part—maybe the main part, but still, it ain’t quite your baby no more.
It goes on this way for a long, long time—much longer than you thought. More line edits, more small alterations. A lot of that is you, and your refusal to stop tweaking. A few days before the first pass pages were due I suddenly decided my book was heavy by about 15,000 words, went through with a red pen and tore it apart. Friends and family ask when you’ll be done with it and you stare at your shoes and shake your head in despair.
Then, one day, it’s over. Actually over. You can’t change it even if you wanted to. In theory, you should experience a moment of extraordinary release. In practice, you’re already pretty deep into the sequel, so there’s not a lot of time for dancing.
Anyway, that’s it in a nutshell. Lord knows there are worse ways to make a living.
Please visit Daniel Polansky’s website to learn more and don’t forgot to enter the Low Town giveaway! Mention something you enjoyed about this guest post and get an extra entry.