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 why do so many of us flounder at that final step? Why is it so often the case the human mind’s comfort zone – on that last-but-one step – is the place it would rather be, instead of taking that one…final…step…uuuuup? After all, the air up there’s gonna be great, not just because it’s clear, but because you’ve reached where you want to be…and things always feel better when you’ve reached a good place you want to be.
Why, then, is it some 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. Your view of the world informs you on how you react to – and cope with – new situations, and some people just hate change. They see it as a form of confrontation, doing everything in their power to actively avoid taking the last step as it equals a BIG CHANGE.
It’s logical, then, that this is a lack of confidence in themselves…and possibly their talent.
With me, it’s 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. Like me, you ask yourself: will everything go wrong and fall to pieces or will it all go so right you’ll get everything you’ve ever dreamed of? And then what will life be like after that…
Admitting that seems stupid. But if we break these fears down a little more, then we can see that – in front of our eyes – that final hurdle isn’t as big as it seems…and it’s really a positive one. It’s a barrier forcing me – and you – to raise your game, judge yourself and your work, and improve it to ensure the “failure fear” doesn’t happen.
And if you’re a writer like me, these “last steps”, and the fears relating to them, seem to come along all the time. You slowly manoeuvre your way up the ladder of success (whatever that truly means), gradually getting better at writing, editing and feeling confident in what you do. And then another learning step arises you need to “get over”. Sometimes these are huge steps, but usually, though, the steps are so small, you don’t even notice them. They’re baby learning steps towards success, and – for the writer – ultimately publication.
Before that, however, you’ve got a book you’ve re-written many times (as I have), 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. But…
If you think carefully about this, and step outside yourself – as I had to – you’ll probably come to the same conclusion as me: the less you need to do to this book of yours (the small touches of line editing, grammar, punctuation, checking character traits etc), means you’re almost there. You’re closer than you’ve ever been to taking the final step.
With this in mind, I figured it was 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 song, painting, sculpture etc), is not only a difficult last step to take, it’s a topic often ignored by impatient writers. I think many writers – mistakenly – believe it’s best to just get their work “out there” as soon as possible. Then let other people judge their talent, from what they’ve done with it so far.
Of course, this is not the right approach. Because learning to write takes time, energy and patience, and being willing to do the final touches to your work sets you 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. So why would you present your work to the world any other way than when it’s properly ready?
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. 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 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 part where I describe that action.
I mean, just writing that made me feel how annoying that is. I’d hate that in a book I’m reading: basically the author spoiling the upcoming treat or surprise every time with a massive hint about what it will be.
But, apparently, it’s a common writerly problem. And I’m working on eradicating these, often minute, “what’s coming up next” summaries from my book, as I can see doing so will increase the tension throughout it. And, for the sake of the book’s quality, I’m willing to spend the time doing this and all the other final touches required.
As you’ll gather, I’m definitely not in the “impatient writer” category as, when it comes to taking that final step, I’m sure it’d be better to take it knowing you’ve done all you can to your work. But, also, I think it’d be better to take that step alongside other people who have done the same (because stepping outside your comfort zone usually goes a lot smoother if you do it with like-minded people, either in a workshop, a writer’s crit group or just with your trustworthy friends).
It’s a proven fact that, the act of being supported by a group (like the Golden Egg Academy), lessens the fear of doing anything and, instead, emphasises to you: if they can do it, so can I! Another reason 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.