I see a lot of manuscripts. Even when I don’t advertise myself as an editor, just being in the general publishing/writing business means people search you out for an opinion. This means I’ve read a great deal of ‘draft zeroes’. Draft zeroes are the drafts that don’t usually see the light of day. They’re a sketch, an idea, a whisper - and for most professional writers extremely private. I consider it a great honour to read these very early drafts, although it’s really none of my business. At that early stage, the work is a private conversation between the writer and the ephemeral creative genius. Editors should stay out of it. Nevertheless, an emerging writer will often venture a draft zero out into the cold light of day because they have questions. It’s the most common question I’ve ever been asked in an editorial capacity. The answer to this question can utterly demolish or make a career. It’s harder to think of a more important question.
‘Is it a thing?’
Now, what does that even mean? ‘A thing’? When a writer asks you this what they’re really asking is, ‘is it good enough to be real’?
Is it legitimate? Is it valid?
Well let me go ahead and spoil this question for you right now. I’ve never ever in my life been asked this question and said ‘no, it’s not a thing’. Ever. And I don’t anticipate I ever will. I’ve only ever said ‘yes’.
This is not because I’ve only ever read genius manuscripts. I haven’t. I’ve read some truly awful work. Really, just plain terrible. But that’s a value judgement on my part. And value judgements have no place in a draft zero. It’s entirely the writer’s business. Most of my draft zeroes are awful. All draft zeroes are not great - of course they’re not! They’re the hot fevered writing of someone in the grips of an exciting idea. That doesn’t rule it out as a valid gateway to your publishing career.
The fact of the matter is, the weird Fairy Godmother of whatever creative spirit came down and whispered in your ear, and demanded enough of your attention to actually get you to write something down. That means it’s a thing. Of course it’s worthy. Of course it’s real. Of course you can join the club if you want to. It came to you, it’s yours!
Now whether it will be published, heavily edited, anthologised or shift medium is a different thing entirely. Writing is a journey, most often a longer one than you expect. It can be rewarding, but it’s hard work. But the most common obstacle isn’t the hard work. The hard editing work is surprisingly thrilling for a lot of writers. The main obstacle is that people don’t just keep going with their draft zero. They get afraid, or convince themselves that they’re too busy, and the ‘special creative project I’ll return to one day’ sits in a drawer for years gathering dust.
The point is keep going. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it’s valid. Don’t doubt yourself or scare yourself off. Keep going. Seriously, listen to me. I can’t emphasise this enough. Just keep going. Writing is a marathon, and your biggest obstacle is yourself.
I say all of this because there was a time at university where I showed a few pages to a friend. I asked ‘Is it a thing?’
And she said, ‘Yes!’
And that’s pretty much how I started wanting to write professionally.
It wasn’t until five or so years later when I actually believed in myself enough to not show people draft zero. I had enough confidence to keep me going through the draft zero process to the other side, where I would begin to mould and sculpt the weird creative mess I had created - THEN I would show people. And the question wasn’t ‘Is this a thing?’ because I knew it was. The questions were far more interesting and useful like, ‘Do I have too many characters?’ or ‘Am I losing momentum in the second act?’ or ‘Is my intention as clear as it can be?’
The only reason anyone ever got published is because they believed in their writing enough to know it was a thing.
So take it from me. It’s a thing. Go write.
Want to read more like this? Check out Dave's blog: http://www.daveburton.com.au/