No, I didn’t suffer some horrifying industrial accident that left me disfigured and my wife perpetually unsatisfied. As if.
Today I want to talk to you about patience, or more to the point, the lack of it. This is an area where I commonly demonstrate opposite ends of the spectrum, which is surprising. I’m a type B personality. Actually closer to B- or C+, if that’s even possible. If you know anything about personality traits, you’ll realize that means I’m laid back to the extreme and patience is normally one of my strong points. But when it comes to my writing, I have a tendency to jump the gun and let go of my projects before they're ready. Anyone else have this problem?
Half-cocked* is a technical firearms term referring to the position of the hammer where the hammer is partially but not completely cocked. Many firearms, particularly older firearms, had a notch cut into the hammer allowing a half-cock, as this position would neither allow the gun to fire nor permit the hammer-mounted firing pin to rest on a live percussion cap or cartridge. The commonly-used English expression of "going off half-cocked" derives from the failure of the half-cock mechanism to keep the hammer from falling and allowing a firearm to discharge prematurely. *definition courtesy of Wikipedia.
This half-cocked problem isn’t limited to just my novels…nope…I see it pop up in emails I send, blog post I compose, just about everywhere. I am not one of those writers who hiccup and 500 or so perfectly realized, grammatically correct words spew out. I’ll massage a paragraph over and over before I’m content with it. Even then it will need more work, but I won’t be able to see it yet. I’ve learned a long time ago that I must build some semblance of a pause in my writing process, a seasoning if you will, to allow the problems with my prose to reveal themselves to me. And when they inevitably do, like noticing someone in the room for the first time (How long have you been standing there?), I’m no longer surprised. For me, the process of transcribing my imagination happens in layers.
As I’ve learned more about the publishing process and the way to approach it, the problem of going off half-cocked has taken on a whole new gravity. Querying a manuscript before it’s completely ready is a death sentence. A move that could even poison the well for you. You have to fight that temptation, dig your feet in and resist that pull. What’s the rush?
When is your novel ready? Definitely not an easy answer. In my mind, there is no such thing as a finished manuscript. There can always be one more minor change made somewhere. But the laws of diminishing return do take over at some point, yielding fewer and fewer revisions with each once over. Your CP’s and Beta readers will be your best barometer here.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. There is no danger in a loaded gun when both parties know what they’re doing. But a half-cocked one, that’s a different story indeed?