Half-Cocked

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?

33 comments

  1. I completely agree that there is no such thing as a completed MS - it's a lot of what makes writing so difficult. One never gets to celebrate a piece being done - unless I supppose you get to the point of being published, and then I'd probably start groaning about the fact things couldn't be changed anymore!

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  2. I too massage and massage. I'd be afraid to let my first drafts of anything see the light of day--so you're spot on. Need to give it some time.

    Great post DL!

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  3. "I am not one of those writers who hiccup and 500 or so perfectly realized, grammatically correct words spew out."

    Me neither, do those people actually exist?

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  4. I'm one of those individuals who queried too early because the last CP pointed out typos (and missed most of them) and only questioned two things. This resulted in a ton of rejections and one full request. Which was rejected because of issues with my writing. Things my CPs didn't point out. After spending a year restudying the craft and rewriting the novel (it's also a completely different plot now), I was finally ready to query.

    Only I developed query paralysis, especially after having to trash my old chapter one, which was no long right for the new plot (and resulted in more rejections). My writer friends (who've read the newest version of the book) have had to push me into querying. Talk about being a complete opposite to a year ago. ;)

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  5. I'm also one who tends to press 'send' far too early. It's partly because I'm a journalist by training and to me a piece of writing isn't real until someone's read it.

    However, novel-writing taught me a thing or too about patience and the value of working something through. I'm learning to keep my hand far away from the send key.

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  6. What you talk about here is a lesson I learned with my short fiction, via reviewer feedback I received at Writing.com. The revision process is so important, and stopping at good should never be enough. We're all good writers. But digging down into the depths of the muse's soul and finding the great in our work -- the brilliance it can possess -- is what separates us; it's one of the biggest differences between hobbyist writers and authors.

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  7. Oh yeah, I learned this writing lesson the hard way! Now I can see that the best thing for that manuscript I think is ready, is time and a fresh pair of eyes! Patience for me is a learned trait I haven't quite mastered, but I'm taking baby steps...

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  8. Hmmm, when is it ready? When it's golden brown and crispy???

    The answer is no. I say when you've fulfilled your criteria of alpha, beta readers and CPs. Then let 'er rip! Then start the querying. If you get rejected, put it down and start on something else! Then go back and maybe edit some more, if you think it needs it or get more beta readers and professional-type CPs. Rinse and repeat as needed.

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  9. I do the same thing with many of my 'personal' post. Then I 'edit' so much that I even confuse myself!! :-) Patience... yes, I need more with myself with my post/writing. I'm much harder on myself.. Sometimes I think I have OCD when it comes to myself. :-)

    Great post!!!
    Hugs,
    Coreen

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  10. LOL, love the half cocked definition, mine do not have that notch :)

    I massage so much I leave marks :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  11. This is a great reminder/slap on the wrist for me! I get twitchy while waiting to hear back from betas, and have been known to send out "test" queries before the book is polished, just to see if the letter itself gets any bites...which is so stupid, because if you get a request and your book isn't sparkly and shiny, that's it. No second chances.

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  12. yes, this has definitely happened to me. When I hear 'half cocked' I think of someone stumbling off 'half cocked' after a college keg party. So glad I now know the true meaning behind the term! I've gotten better at holding onto my work until it's actually ready to be put out there with time though!

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  13. I am so there, with you. I could edit to death, killing life that may or may not have been good. I'm also an overthinker. Can't help it. I'm in the trenches of over-scanning my new wip and driving myself crazy.

    Life-line, please?

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  14. I do this too, because it's so easy to turn a blind eye to all the faults in our story. Right now I'm getting ready to query, and I really really hope that I've waited long enough.

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  15. The same thing happened to me Stina, only I never got a full request.

    I've been working on revisions on my first novel for over a year. I intend to do another major restructuring.

    The funny thing is my second complete novel is just the opposite. I feel it's ready only after a few edits. SO I guess it depends on the manuscript.

    The second novel almost wrote itself.... It almost scares me. I have it with CP's now and so far I haven't heard anything to major to change...

    Michael

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  16. oh i'm with you, no matter how laid back i am, once i finish something i want to send it out right away

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  17. Spot on! I have a tendency to rush things too, and it's often been to my detriment. I need to take a deep breath and slow down!

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  18. I tend to rush into things too. I get an idea and I act on it. I almost queried my first novel a year ago. I'm so glad I didn't! However, I now have the other problem. I'm too afraid to query it. I haven't looked at it since the beginning of Dec. because I'm just not sure. I get conflicting opinions on it, so I'm not doing anything! Ugh.

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  19. I have, in the past, been one to jump the gun. But I was thirteen and inexperienced when I published my first book. Now that I've seen the danger of jumping the gun, I won't do it (I hope!) with the piece I'm working on now (if I ever finish it). But as a general rule, at least with my blogs, I tend to polish them til they shine. I get frustrated by bloggers with lots of typos and grammatical errors in their writing so I work hard to eliminate those things, and anything confusing, and places where I ramble - oh, well, I guess now is a good time to stop, lest I have to polish my comment, too!

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  20. I made the mistake of sending queries too early too, so I totally get you. I've been trying to learn my lesson since. Now I take more time, though it can be frustrating but thank God for good editors and encouraging beta readers.

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  21. My wife says I am a perfectionist and a slow one at that. So half-cocked doesn't happen often!

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  22. I have this problem. I did it today and there's no way I can take it back. Doh!

    I too need space. I will massage and rest, massage and rest until the last time I look at it, I don't see anything to fix immediately. Sure, I could sit on it a week and find some additional problems, there always is. But sometimes, there is that final feeling of "there - that's right" I get when reading something I've written.

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  23. Nice analogy. I wish I were more laid back. I've even tried to be, but its so hard. So you're not the only one half cocked. And when it comes to writing.... I can't even think about it. :-)

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  24. Yes, the flint-lock rifle was a source of many terms today.

    Half-cocked
    Flash in the pan
    Lock, stock and barrel

    Bet you didn't know I knew about flint-locks, eh?

    Anyway, enough showboating.
    Great post, and yes, I have a tendency to do the same but I'm learning more patience.

    Great post DL!

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  25. Couldn't agree more. What's really frustrating is to query a ms under the assumption that it's done and polished, only to find rejection after form rejection that it really isn't.

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  26. You first line in this post is killer. LOL

    I baked my manuscript for a loooong time before I queried it. Mainly out of fear, but I wanted to give it every chance, and so I revised and revised and revised.

    It's still not perfect, btw... but will it ever be?

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  27. I feel your pain. I massage and massage to the point that it takes me all day to churn out 3000 words. (like 12 hours) Pathetic, and even with all of that obsessing and tweaking, I still go back and read passages that feel half-cocked!

    Isn't writing fun? ;)

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  28. Yeah, no such thing as a completed MS. I could go into mine every day and change 10 given things around. In fact, most days I do.

    But, at some point you have to let go to, And that's really, really hard.

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  29. Just as I think I am done, bang another idea fires off!

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  30. I think I'm a little bipolar when it comes to my own personal cockedness. Sometimes I am so eager to jump the gun that I've often pulled the trigger even before there's even a concept in my mind. Other times I'm a horribly slow plodder that just can't get up the courage to take the leap.

    Sadly, my "look before leaping" and my "leap before looking" attitudes don't always coincide with the "best" behavior for the given circumstance. :)


    As a heads up, I have just awarded you the "Stylish Blogger Award" over on my blog.

    Woo-hoo! :)

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  31. Editing the manuscript can be as rewarding as writing it. It's almost sad letting it go when it's "finished"--like telling a good friend farewell.

    ecwrites.blogspot.com

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  32. I spent years go off half-cocked in when it comes to writing. I'm quite embarrassed by it.

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  33. Eek! I think that I have a very bad habit of sending out my manuscripts early. I just get so excited. :)

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