Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Duck Soup: Writing and Terror

When Paul and I were in college, sometimes he would talk about how he saw his future as a writer, or how he saw Book Three of his trilogy ending when he had only started Book One that week.

I used to say to him 'Paul, how do you make duck soup? First, kill the duck. Write the book!'

I would then talk about my own future as a writer, or how I saw the sequel to my second book ending when I hadn't even written the first book yet.

Paul would smile and nod, because he is a nicer person than me. He never mentioned duck soup.

But he finally got his revenge last night. I told him that I was putting off my third edit of Becky. I hope this will be my final full edit and that the next steps will be sending it off to gamma readers (the betas have already had their input), a brief polish based on their comments, followed by querying. 

'I'm terrified,' I said. 'This is the last step before I have to think about putting the book out there. It's so scary that I don't want to start the last edit.'

Paul typed back 'Duck soup.'

He's right. I should just edit the book and see how I get on. Maybe the edit will throw up more problems. Maybe I'm still four edits away from querying. I won't know until I start.

But it's bloody scary. Every step of the journey takes me a step closer to querying.

Of course I'm scared of rejection. But that's not the whole story.

I'm also scared of succeeding. 

Yep, I'm scared of the very thing I've wanted all my life. I'm scared of an agent liking my book, signing me, and selling it. I'm scared of being published.

Because when I get published, I want it to be right. I want it to be the right book, the right time, the right agent, the right publisher, the right marketing, the right sales - all leading, ultimately, to the right career. And I have virtually no control over that. I can't write the book that would be best to launch my career - I don't know what that is. All I can do is write the best book I can and hope.

And I can let go. 

This book may never see the light of day. I'm prepared for that, and I'm OK with it. And I've read a lot about how other writers have handled publication, so I think I'm - well, not prepared for that, because no one ever is. But I'm prepared for how unprepared I am. And I have some idea what's required.

It's still scary. But my job right now is to put that aside and write the best book I can.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a duck to kill.


  1. The fear remains, only the reasons change.

    I hope you saved a Duck for me :)

  2. Sarah, that is so true.

    Don't worry, there will be plenty of ducks when your time comes!

    Disclaimer: No ducks have ever, in fact, been harmed by me or Paul.

  3. Now I'm craving duck soup ... thanks Ellen!

    This may not be helpful I don't think there is a 'right book'. Accutally I'm sure you know that - just keep writing, polishing, querying and, when it comes to it, publishing.

    Everything may not run perfectly but it will certainly run - I've no doubt of that - and in the end it will be 'right'.

    You've a talent for telling a story that not all writers are blessed with - it's a joy to both read and listen to your tales! If you're not published in the next ten years I'll eat my shoe!

  4. Thanks Zoe, that's a lovely compliment to get :D

    Although I now have a mental image of me sitting at a computer in ten years reading a blog post by you entitled 'Shoe Soup' and thinking 'Well, she's a woman of her word. . . '

    I agree that there isn't a 'right book' - or rather, there may be, but the only way for a book to be 'not right' is if it isn't good enough, and I can trust the publishing industry to spot that a mile off and not let me embarrass myself!

    Also, the industry is changing so fast now that even a career that starts poorly can get a new lease of life later. So I think things are more likely to be alright in the end now than they have ever been before :)

  5. Oh, Ellen, I love the honesty in this post. I felt the same way, although for me, when I couldn't find an agent, I found I needed to self-publish so that my story could get out in the world. Happy ducking.

  6. Karen, I'm glad you liked it. I can only imagine the nerve needed to self-publish - it's a path I would consider myself but I imagine the fear I feel at the moment is much more intense for an author self-pubbing. Self-pub is so much more immediate - you can finish the book on Monday and have it out there by Tuesday.

    I'm sure your readers are all very glad you did it :)

  7. Sometimes getting what we want is more intimidating that not getting it. Our lives are so built up around the struggle side of our goals that we forget we need to consider how to handle them one they've been achieved.

    I'm looking forward to your duck soup.

  8. This is a great post, Ellen! (Love your new profile picture by the way).

    If there were an equivalent to 'break a leg' in the writing industry, I would say it to you.

    Perhaps you've coined that phrase! Duck Soup!

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  10. Stupid typos! I'll start again!
    There are plenty of cliches I could use like 'take one step at a time' - but continuing the theme, how about:
    How do you eat an elephant?
    One bite at a time.
    So it's duck soup followed by elephant steaks?

  11. Paul, in spite of the fear, I am looking forward to the day I enjoy duck soup too :) You can see the killed duck reasonably soon.

    Was that the sound of my metaphor stretching to breaking point?

    Kittie, I wish I had coined the phrase, but it's something my mother used to say to me. I always thought it was from the Marx Brothers film but I'm not sure anymore!

    Interestingly, this post is now the sixth result on Google if you search the phrase 'how do you make duck soup?'

    Thanks for the good luck - glad you like the profile picture, it was taken on holidays, hence the sun :)

    Paula, I have my hands full with duck soup and now I have to eat an elephant? :D I like the one-bite-at-a-time philosophy though, with that in mind I may just manage it!

  12. I wonder can we get #killingtheduck trending on Twitter?


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