Are we novelists EVER satisfied with our stories? I first presented this post in 2014.
The following paragraph is not an entry out of “Mike’s Brag Book.” I only present it to support the point I plan on making in this post.
I have written books, and have edited other writers’ books, since before the invention of movable type. I’ve published over two dozen novels, nearly all with mainstream publishers. Writers with whom I’ve worked have published close to 150 books, not counting the ones that have been self-published. It would seem, on the surface at least, that I have some clue as to what I’m doing.
So why in the name of Zeus’s butthole am I re-editing one of my already published novels for what must be the hundredth time!?
Here’s the backstory, short version: when I emerged from my seventeen-year hiatus from writing and publishing back in 2010, I found a small, start-up house that eventually published two of my novels, Fire Dance and The Burning Ground, both ghost stories. The former had been written for Bantam Books in the ’90s, but after my editor left they pulled out of the deal. The latter—well, that was written almost in its entirety in 2011, and I felt damn good that I could still create something practically from scratch.
Flash forward to about a month ago. The two books had run their course with the start-up publisher, so I took back my rights and am planning on releasing both under my Atoris Press imprint. (Which, of course, has been done.) I chose Fire Dance first (my only novel to be reviewed in Publishers Weekly—positively, no less), and since I had to re-format it anyway, I figured I’d have another editing run-through.
Now, understand this: back in the ’90s I did my usual three drafts before advising Bantam that it was ready. After they cut me loose, I sat on it for a while (pissed, I was) before cleaning it up again for possible submission. A half-hearted and short-lived attempt to get back into the game halfway through those seventeen years saw me clean it up a couple times more, and before the start-up publisher took it on I did additional work on it. So re-editing it one more time, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, should have been a piece of cake, right?
Oh, there were a few typos—not a lot, but in my purview even one is too many. (One line really made me lose my lunch: He took another step toward them, gritty sand crunching beneath the souls of his heavy boots.) Much worse: anyone who has worked with me knows how much I detest overuse of passive verbs such as “was” and “were.” In the published version—over 1,500 of the damn things! That has now been reduced by nearly two-thirds, much of those that remain in either dialogue or close third POV.
Even worse: the entire story—discounting the 1878 opening chapter—takes place over the course of sixteen days in 1994, with the Fourth of July in the middle of them. In a much earlier draft I used a different year, but when I changed it to 1994 I did nothing about the days of the week, so I had the Fourth falling on a Wednesday, when in fact that year it fell on a Monday. That put every day in the story off by two. Crap!
The new, improved, revised, properly dated Fire Dance is available once again. Is it pristine? I hope so—but who knows?
A lesson here for writers, experienced or otherwise: take your time with your revisions, your copyediting, your research, all the way through your final proofing. Don’t shortchange your readers, and most of all, don’t shortchange yourself. You’ve already put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time, and coffee into your story, so why dash to the finish line?
Being around writers for the past few centuries as an editor, coach, and teacher, I’ve seen this happen all too often. If you’ve lost your objectivity from being with your manuscript for so long, or if you’re just sick of the project, take a few steps back and leave it alone for a while. Even better: find a fresh set of eyes to look at your manuscript while you take a break. You don’t want to be revising the same story for the rest of your natural life.
Another novel of mine from the past, the first in my comedy/science fiction trilogy, Bicycling Through Space and Time, has been revised and published under my Atoris Press imprint. It is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon.