The Constant Companion

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.
-Jane Hirschfield, My Doubt

I am hacking my way through the revisions to Geoff and Lia’s story. Revisions are like housework; I would much rather be doing something else, but once I’m done I am glad I did it.

Anne Anderson05The difference, of course, is that when I’m sweeping the floor, I rarely question whether I’m doing it right.

Perhaps this is a character flaw. Maybe I’ve been sweeping wrong all this time and no one told me.

But with writing, it’s different. I am slicing and dicing the text and then splicing it back together into a semblance of a smoothly flowing narrative. And at each step along the process, doubt is right there with me, a constant companion who questions everything.

I’ve decided that doubt is part of the process as well. I might as well sit him down and make him a cup of tea if he’s going to stay around.

In Praise of Bad Writing

I’ve finally managed to drag my muse out from under the bed where she’s been hiding ever since I got Geoff and Lia’s story back from the beta reader.

Here are three facts about the feedback:

  • The beta reader did a great job. Her feedback pinpointed the areas in the story that felt weak.
  • Her feedback was balanced between good and bad elements of my writing.
  • When I read her feedback, my belief in my ability to write went away and hid for a while.

Funhouse Mirror in the City - panoramioI knew I was being foolish to overreact like that. I did it anyway. I’ve decided that this reaction is part of the process and I’ll just have to accept it. Plus, I need to recognize that this reaction has very little to do with what the beta reader actually said. I apparently have a hearing problem; criticism of my writing is going to be distorted into something monstrous.

What the beta reader actually said: You need to work on areas A, B, and C.

What I heard: You are the worst writer in the history of the planet.

Picswiss SZ-23-15Something inside my head took the perfectly fair, dispassionate, balanced advice that I was offered and turned it upside down and inside out until it was almost unrecognizable.

Maybe it’s a reverse form of egotism. If I can’t be a good writer, then I’m going to immediately rank myself at the opposite end of the spectrum and be the Worst Writer Ever.

All right. Let’s imagine that’s true. In that case, there’s room for improvement. I will aim to be the Second Worst Writer Ever. Move one step up the ladder.

I have finally got myself back to work by ignoble means. Bribery. The only way I am going to let myself start working on the Shiny New Story waiting in the wings is to finish smoothing out Sam and Neil’s story and then revising Geoff and Lia’s story.

I have a confession to make: I am the sort of person who reads other people’s diaries. But I only read them if it’s the author is dead and the diary is published. I’ve read Virginia Woolf’s diaries. She used to note down how she felt at different stages of writing a novel and then come back later and compare it to how she felt about the story later. So I’m going to note here that at this moment I think that Samantha and Neil’s story is the worst thing I’ve ever written. When I started writing it, this story was all glitter and stardust. I want to check back in six months or so and see what I think about it then.

It’s hard to finish a story when you think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever done. I don’t want to submit a horrible story to my editor. But considering how my feelings about a story are going to change, I don’t think I’m the best judge of whether my stories are any good or not.

It’s not my job to reject this story. That’s the editor’s job, and she’s very good at it. I’m going to write it as best I can and then let her do her job. My job is to write it and then go on.

Bad writing can lead to good writing.

I really do believe that it’s only through writing The Worst Book Ever that I am going to get better. If I keep writing–and finishing–novels, and if I make it a point to analyze where I’ve gone wrong with each story, then I will get better at this.

You are the only you… There are better writers than me, there are smarter writers than me, there are people who can plot better, but nobody can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.

-Neil Gaiman

You never can tell

My first ever book is getting closer to publication. And I’m starting to worry.

I know, I know. I should be happy/excited/proud. Not nervous. But… taking words out of my head and putting them onto a page is one thing. Putting all those pages out for all the world to see is very different.

Is my book any good? I have not the slightest clue.

Anker- Die Andacht des Grossvaters 1893

Unimpressed readers

When an author first starts a book, it’s all rainbows and glitter and insta-love. It’s the Best Book Ever.

Then it comes back from the beta reader, and this book is clearly a complete waste of time and you are obviously an inept bumbler who should never have been allowed near a keyboard. Be off with you. Find a new hobby.

Then comes revisions, and it’s like eating dust and ashes. The story is dead, there’s no life to it, you should just delete it from your computer and burn any hard copies.

Then it comes out and… this part is hypothetical, but I’m guessing there will be one of two possible scenarios here:

  • Zzzzzzzz…. crickets…zzzzzz…. maybe a one-star review on Amazon if you’re lucky.
  • What, someone liked it? It’s not the absolutely Worst Book Ever? Maybe even not the Second Worst Book Ever? Hey, maybe it’s even made it up to the level of the Third Worst Book Ever! Success!

tl;dr — I am trying not to think about the upcoming publication of His Forgotten Fiancée. This week, I’m finishing up the smooth draft of Neil and Samantha’s story, tentatively titled Sierra Hostage. Then I am giving myself a month to go over the revisions for Geoff and Lia’s story before I send it to the editor. Keeping busy helps.

All I can do is focus on finishing the current story. Then the one after that. The next one will be better. Each time, the next one will be better.

Rachel Neumeier wrote an interesting post on The Psychology of Revisions.

I’d like to be assertive, if that’s all right with everyone

Irishfairytales01step 0193

Not a picture of the critique group

I signed up to join a critique group. It’s set up so that for every two critiques you give, you get to submit something for other people to critique. Seemed like a good way to get feedback on a manuscript, so I went for it. I read a lot of other people’s chapters and critiqued them, then sent a chapter of my own and asked people to look at it.

Crickets.

A week went by.

More crickets.

I could see that other newbies were having their work critiqued, so it wasn’t that there was no one around to look at my chapter. Something about it wasn’t grabbing people. After a week, I sent my request out again. This time, I asked if there was a problem with the manuscript that might be stopping people from wanting to read it. I want to fix the problem(s) in my writing, but I need to know what they are first.

As soon as I clicked ‘Send,’ the demons of doubt and self-criticism leapt on me. My email was petulant, crabby, whining. I was berating people for not looking at my deathless prose and sounding like a loser at the same time.

It is possible that my email did come across as cranky. I didn’t mean it to, but it’s not always easy to gauge a person’s mood in emails. Even so, it is not evil to ask for feedback. Maybe that’s the lesson I was meant to learn by joining a critique group, how to ask for what I need.

Update: And yes, kind people pitched in to critique my chapter.

Amanda Palmer gave a whole Ted talk on the art of asking. (And a book as well.)

Editing between the lines

Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre

The specter of a Line Edit looming over a defenseless author

At first glance, [Line Edits] can be daunting enough to scare the pink off a pig.
-Amy Woods

Line Edits can be
fun
a barrel of laughs
educational.

The process can damage your self esteem — if you let it. So I am not going to let it.

It is humbling to have an editor asks what a sentence meant. Especially when I re-read it and wonder too. I am sure that the sentence made perfect sense when I wrote it.

I feel like Robert Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, in the scene where Elizabeth Barrett asked him what one of his poems meant.

ELIZABETH BARRETT: Well?

ROBERT BROWNING: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it.

For a Harlequin author, this is the last chance to make any changes to the story. The final opportunity to see any typos or major errors. Even though by this point the manuscript has had several eyes looking at it, I need to go through one last time. Deb Kastner recommends sending the doc to a Kindle, since it’s easier to spot errors when they’re in a different setting.

mugI always think I’ve caught all the typos before I send the story off. Always. And still the pesky things crop up when I’m not looking. In the normal course of things, I do not believe in gremlins. When it comes to typos or other errors in my cherished manuscript, however, they are clearly the only answer.

Newbie Author Checklist

August Müller Tagebucheintrag

  • ☐Refresh Amazon page obsessively to see if ranking has changed – Done
  • ☐Google name and book title –Done
  • ☐Calculate how long before the cover is ready – Done
  • ☐Re-calculate just to make sure it really will take that long. –Done
  • ☐Remind self that It Takes Time, Okay? Calm Down Already.
  • ☐Control the urge to tweet ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’ in an endless loop.

Still have a couple things left to do.