It's All in the Popcorn
By Evan Braun
Aspiring writers are often on the receiving end of two pieces of advice that, on the surface, may seem contradictory. They’re told: “Be patient. Give it time.” They’re also told to move on: “Start your next project, and then the one after that.” These aren’t really contradictory at all, as you’ll see. They go hand in hand.
The tendency of a writer with a big idea is to write their book, then rewrite it, rewrite it again, get some feedback, edit it, submit it, resubmit it, submit it again, re-edit it, get some more feedback, do another rewrite, submit it… you see where I’m going with this? The carousel is endless. Writers tend to pursue their pet project tenaciously. They believe that if they can make this one book idea as perfect as possible, and sell it, their career will take off.
One in every few hundred thousand writers might be able to succeed according to this model, but unfortunately it will fail for most writers. It’s just not very practical.
I once spoke with a very successful novelist who has made millions of dollars off his craft. Here’s what he told me: “Pursuing a career as a novelist is like making popcorn.” I admitted that I didn’t see his point, so he explained it to me. You don’t pop one kernel of popcorn at a time, he said; you pour out a whole handful into a pot full of oil and turn on the heat.”
It’s actually a really smart analogy. Indeed, it doesn’t make sense to pop one kernel at a time, and neither does it make sense to doggedly pursue the publication of just one book. You’ll be much more likely to achieve success if you have a dozen imperfect manuscripts than if you have only one really perfect one.
If you think about it, the popcorn theory is really just a new iteration of the old adage that says you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. They key is to spread it around.
This brings to mind yet another writing adage, one that’s been around for centuries. Supposedly it was Leonard de Vinci who said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” For good reason, this has been the writer’s mantra. Because it could take a lifetime, at least, to perfect a single manuscript, it’s best to just get it as good as you can for now. The key is the words for now. Because you can always go back and refine it later.
So it turns out that those contradictory pieces of advice from earlier really do go hand in hand. It’s important to be patient, because one manuscript isn’t going to sell overnight. Then again, you shouldn’t just have one manuscript on the go. Once you’re done one project, move on to the next, and to the next one after that. Eventually you’ll find yourself in the enviable position of being patient with dozens of manuscripts at a time. The more you write, the less likely you’ll have to wait very long.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored two novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has also released a sequel, The City of Darkness (2013), with a third entry in the series due later this year. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.