Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wait! Before You Read That Book...

It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something. ~Ornette Coleman

On a publisher’s loop this morning, a fellow author mentioned that F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to have said he wished he could get his books back so he could rewrite them.

I immediately connected with THAT sentiment.

Sure, I only have one published book out there in Bookland; but, even with that one book, I sometimes feel ‘writer’s remorse’ (I don’t think there IS such a term as ‘writer’s remorse’, but it seems to fit me SO well, I’ll coin it myself).

I’m probably the only author on the planet who literally cringes every time a potential buyer comments to me, I’m just getting ready to download CANDY G! I can’t wait to read it!”

I have to bite my tongue to stifle the advance apologies chomping at the bits to spew—before you DO read it, let me warn you—let me tell you ahead of time, a reviewer called it a ‘silly plot’—warning, warning—read at your own risk!

No, no, I’m not saying my book is bad. It isn’t bad at all. It is what it is. Some love it, some like it, some feel so-so about and some loathe it. That is true for ANY book.

What I AM saying is that I am the first to acknowledge that this book—my first published work—has flaws that I can see now. What I AM saying is that ALL of my writing has flaws. What I AM saying is that just because I have one published book out the door does not mean I’ve ‘arrived’ at my pinnacle writing experience.

One book—a hundred books—does not the perfect writer make.

This all could seem terribly hopeless, couldn’t it? Well, hell, C. Zampa, why even keep trying? I mean, if you’re going to just keep messing up, if you’re never going to get it perfect, what’s the point? How discouraging!

Not so, my friend. Not only am I NOT discouraged, I am ecstatic. I can see my mistakes.

I’ve been fortunate. Somehow, I’ve luckily found a multitude of friends and supporters in the writing community who work with me. But they don’t just work with me. They push me. They push me hard. They push me SO hard sometimes I feel like Lucy on the ballet episode—you know the one with the tough instructor who perpetually snapped her baton at the bumbling Lucy?

My teachers haven’t been tender. They haven’t been afraid to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Although they HAVE praised my strengths, they haven’t been easy on my weaknesses. And I HAVE been tempted to snarl at them when they point out an imperfection in my perfect work-in-progress.

But none of my mentors--not even one--will hesitate to tell you that I never balk at their advice. Oh, sure, I get second opinions--often--as anyone should. But as far as pointers that can make my story stronger, get more bang for the buck with tighetning, structure, etc.? I'd be silly not to listen. My mentors will tell you I grab help and run with it, feast on it with greedy passion. Sometimes I find I cherish the negatives because I know, I just know from experience, they can almost always be turned into positives. They have their own beautiful power.

To find your pristine manuscript isn’t so flawless after all…well, it stings. But I’d rather feel the sting now—as I’m writing the manuscript—and learn to correct my mistakes than to feel the much bigger bites of the readers who catch my blunders.

Winston Churchill said I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.

Like I said, I’m lucky.

Of course I wince at first upon hearing my errors.But the opposite end of that spectrum is the unfortunate author who either has not had the opportunity to learn or who DOES have the chance but refuses to accept they DO have weaknesses, even when those more experienced have tried to point them out and help them improve. To ignore help will keep them from growing. Even worse, to think they don’t NEED help will stunt their writing growth completely.

An unknown author said, Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.

And that’s just it. By sending our writing out to the public, we ARE sending our errors to be counted. So, like the ball player, it’s in our best interest to practice, to listen to the experienced ones who try to help us, to learn from OUR OWN experience, to be grateful that we have the means to sharpen our skills.

On the other side of that coin is this: in order to do all the above, we have to know and accept that we are always going to make mistakes. We aren’t going to reach that perfect moment in our writing when we know everything.

Harry Truman said, It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.

And another unknown author said—and I love this—Experience is what causes a person to make new mistakes instead of old ones.

And that’s the beauty of it all. In writing, as with everything else in life, we DO make mistakes. And, as everything else, we grow from them IF we use them as valuable learning tools instead of gauges of failure.

Some time ago I stumbled on an excerpt of a book. The short piece I read was so laden with mistakes and bad writing I actually found it comical. But the tragic part? It wasn’t supposed to be comedy.

My first—and lingering thought—was…didn’t this person have any one to help them, to mentor them? How sad that was to me to think.

But, then, my thought progressed to…what if this person DID have a mentor who tried to help them and they just knew more than the person offering the advice? THAT would have been the ultimate tragedy. Because that book is now out there—like the earlier quote said—with all its errors to be counted. And if an inexperienced eye like mine could even trip all over the mistakes and horrific writing, think how it will bode when an experienced eye zeroes in on it?

Falling prey to critical eyes is going to happen to all writers. It’s part of the game. But when my writing DOES fall victim to dissection, at least let me know in my heart the faults that get counted aren’t there because of my refusal to have opened my mind to learning.


Pat Dale said...

All I can say is, Amen! To write is to grow, and to grow is to fall short, again and again. But it's the growing and falling that makes us better at what we do, in my opinion.
Pat Dale

Cassie Exline said...

I think all writers have those feelings. We're out own worst critic. I'm hard on myself and there's not one thing I have written that I wouldn't want to tweak this or tweak that. Doesn't say the work is bad or there are errors, just that I've grown as a writer and would change things. Part of the learning process.

Molly Daniels said...

My first print book has a HUGE error in it, stemming from miscommunication with the editing board, and the fact my husband was in the hospital at the time. The first couple of times I did a signing, I pointed out the mistake, even crossed it out, and explained WHY it happened.

And then I realized there would be 3 types of people:
1) the type who wouldn't catch it;
2) the type who would come to the mistake and go 'Huh?' but keep reading;
3) the type would would vow to never read my work again, or email me and blast me for the error (hasn't happened).

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Pat, and welcome!
It sure does make us grow, and we're not doing ourselves any favors by not letting it work that way, are we?

Thank you for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Cassie!
I've only had the one book so far, but boy do I feel the desire to grab it and re-work SO much of it.
I feel like maybe I've learned something because I DO know there's room for improvement with it. LOL...

C. Zampa said...

Welcome, Molly!
Oh, you made a good point about the three kinds of readers.

And our books are perfect examples. Some most certainly have caught some of my weak spots in Candy G...other haven't. But I know they're there. Grr...

And you had a wonderful opportunity at your signings--which most of us never have--to have a chance to explain your error.

Dorien Grey said...

Good one, Carol! You hit it on the head when you said, "One book—a hundred books—does not the perfect writer make."

So welcome to the world of authordom (and it is SO a word, even if I just made it up).

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

In my last book two editors went through the manuscript, as did I, and in the Great American Published version errors were instantly recognized. "Oops!" I say, and just go on with your life. Write another manuscript, big deal, errors will always be made, you correct them and move on. Shrug, smile and laugh them off.

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Dorien!
Love your new word 'Authordom'...LOL....
And thank you for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hey there, Mick!
Yes, errors are always going to be made and you're just have to keep on going.

And learn from them. Good to see you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have learned to embrace those early writings and everything I'd now like to go back and change. Sometimes I do cringe a *little* but knowing I've improved enough to see the old weaknesses makes me feel really good. THAT, I dig. ;c)

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Sarah!
I suppose, as I only have the one book, I still DO readers don't have any newer works to know if I have improved or not. LOL...

But, like I said, I, too, take pleasure..and knowing I HAVE learned and have improved as time has time has passed.

You and I have been right there from the beginning of both of our works, and have had the thrill of being able to share that growth together.


Connor Wright said...

Oh, you're not the only one who thinks "No, wait, let me explain!" when someone tells you they're going to buy your work -- I do it, too. Especially when that comment comes after praise for my explicit BDSM story from the Hot Summer Days anthology. Tobias's Own not only isn't BDSM, it's not even explicit. And there's an error in the first half of the first chapter. And, and, and...

But the funny thing is, in the few reviews I've gotten for it? The only thing people care about is the fact that one of the characters needs his own guy, and they're hoping I'll write that story. Considering that the reviews for my first-ever published story said it was boring, unarousing, confusing, and took too long to get to the payoff, I'll take it.

When it comes to making mistakes and having them pointed out, I'm with old Churchill: I may not always be thrilled to be corrected at the time, but afterward I'm always glad I learned something. Even if it is only that for some people, there's a difference between 'foreplay' and 'taking too long to get to the dang point'.

C. Zampa said...

Hello and welcome, Connor!
You, too,eh? The familiar, 'Wait, let me wasn't supposed to be this way or....'

I, too, found reviewers to interpret my story in ways I hadn't intended. Some BETTER than I intended but some--unfortunately--not. And I wanted to argue. But, on the other hand, some of the shortcomings that reviewers found were just that...shortcomings that even I could see through another set of eyes.

Thank you for visiting!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Honestly, I couldn't have said it better. You are so elegant and wise, dear Carol. What an inspiration. And thanks for reminding me. I'm going to download your book tomorrow. Right now I'm heading to bed. Oh, when I'm finished reading, I'll post a review. That should help settle your stomach.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Joylene!
And...NOOOOOO! Seriously...WAIT! LOL...

You're so dear, always have been. I admire you so.

Lelani Black said...

I truly think most readers can still read and enjoy a story with an occasional grammatical error. Of course as writers, we see the the error and go oh my God! How did I miss that? Not just you, but your editors, and test readers and crit partners. And you only went through the ms yourself about 50 times!
There are a lot of eyes combing through that ms before publication, and if a few rogue errors got through, don't beat yourself up. At least, not too hard. I have some in my published works (I'm not going to say where, lol ;) As a reader, I can definitely be forgiving about errors because I happens to many authors, new and multi-pubbed.

I'd rather read a great story with an occasional error, than a perfect story that lacks warmth :)

Anonymous said...

You did what all of us, as authors, have done. We saw our mistakes with our first "babies", we lamented them, and we LEARNED from them. And most of all, we CONTINUED to write!


Hugs, Kari Thomas,

Anonymous said...

Ahh, this is a wonderful post. So, so true. I'm feeling better already. Thanks for this.

C. Zampa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C. Zampa said...

Hi, Lelani!
Good to see you!
I'm like you. I see beyond the minor grammatical issues and never get thrown out of a good book by them.

It's the bigger things---plot issues, logic--that I regret sometimes. Things I wish I knew that I'm beginning to learn now.

But at least we CAN see them eventually and can try to avoid them with the next books.

I hope...LOL...

Thank you for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Kari T! Good to see you! And hugs back!

I'm relieved to see that I'm not alone in this Writers' Remorse. LOL...And, yep, we can learn, can't we?

Nice to see you, lady!

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Dawn! You, too, eh??? LOL...
We're all going to learn, aren't we? LOL...

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Andrew Ashling said...

I agree with most of your post and the reactions.

From one of my books (from all of them really) I know the faults all too well, and sometimes readers see them as well. So I can relate to Fitzgerald’s sentiment. On the other hand a painter said “You can keep adding a brushstroke here and there, but at some time you’ve got to say ‘That’s it. It’s finished. I’m done,’ and resist the urge to try to make the painting better. It will never be how you saw it with your mind’s eye.”

But paint dries. With the emerging electronic publishing phenomenon we do have the opportunity to keep tinkering — and hopefully ameliorating — our books. That is, if we wish to do so.
Is it always necessary though? I’m reminded of Cromwell who told Peter Lely to paint him “warts and all.” Or of the David of Michelangelo. Just look how out of proportion his hands are. A fault? Anatomically speaking most certainly. Artistically?
Well, I’m not that sure.

C. Zampa said...

Oh, Andrew, welcome!

And I have no regrets, no wishing I could tweek the book more.

My only cringing is done at seeing things that were matters of inexperience, things that could have made the story stronger, things that could have been explained better.

But I agree...there had to be a time when 'enough is enough.' And, when I realized I would not have a perfect book, I went ahead and submitted it. But NO regrets, no looking back, only an AWARENESS of things that were undone.

And, no, art isn't and--in my opinion---should not be perfect.
The most beautiful art, in my eyes, is not perfect and is all the more beautiful for it.

Like I said, I have no regrets. As my blog says many times, I've rejoiced that I've noticed the issues with the inexperience and can use them to grow.

Thank you so much for visiting!!