The Best I Could Is No Longer The Best I Can

May this always be true: The best I could do is no longer the best I can do.

If this is true, it means improvement is happening. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Growth?

I’m not the same writer I was five years ago. Honestly, that’s a very good thing.  When I was starting out as a newly published independent author, I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. I’m still prone to mistakes today, but, boy, things were kind of rough back in the day, which makes me feel very appreciative of all those positive reviews these strangers left on what was not my best work.

There’s a reason I’m rambling on about writing growth. I have been meaning to start re-promoting one of my favorite novels, which I published in 2014 – The Reach of the Banyan Tree.  It was my third and longest novel at the time – a multi-generational, historical romance novel mixed with war, adventure, and contemporary intrigue. I’ve always loved the story behind this novel. It covered all my old stomping grounds from my ten years living in Vietnam.

Finally, I was ready to start re-promoting it, but something happened. I started reading through the beginning of this novel and, honestly, I cringed. No, I didn’t really write like that back then, did I?

I read more and sighed deeply with one simple realization: I did not want to promote this book if it’s going to make readers think that that’s the way I currently write. I didn’t want to give that impression because there were many problems with the way my prose flowed in 2013. So I had a decision to make: keep as is and no longer promote it or do a complete re-edit and revision.

Yep, what you know what I chose.  Over the last two weeks I did a thorough read and re-edit – getting rid of all those narrative issues and those needlessly wordy sentences. Oh, and those adverbs. There was more, but you get the picture.

Once the ebook was reformatted, then came the paperback. I came to realize that I didn’t even know what a drop-cap was back in 2013 when I was putting this together. So you know what I had done? I used some sort of anchored text box to make drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. They looked terrible.

The final re-edit isn’t perfect. I didn’t have unlimited time, but I’m much happier with the result, and I am now happy to start re-promoting it.

This whole process gives me hope that the best of my writing is yet to come. It’s exciting for me to see what’s brewing in the mind which will one day be a whole host of new stories. Let’s hope they are crisper than ever before.

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If It’s Good Enough for Mr. Livgren, then …

I’ve admired Kerry Livgren for a long time.

Yes, you know him. The composer, guitarist, lyricist of Kansas.

Yes – “Carry on Wayward Son” – “Dust in the Wind”

Okay, now you’re with me.

Livgren didn’t just disappear after the glory years of Kansas in the late seventies and early eighties. Far from it. He released many solo albums, founded the band A.D., got back together with his old mates from the pre-Kansas days and released three terrific albums under the name Proto Kaw.

The guy is brilliant. Yet, the thing that has stood out the most for me about his musical procedures is that he is never satisfied. He said in an interview once that if he has the opportunity to make a previously released song better, he wouldn’t hesitate to do that. And he has.

He has remastered albums. He has kept the vocals of songs and completed rerecorded the instruments to make an even better product.

His dedication to his craft is relentless, and it has inspired me (as a writer) to be like Kerry!

When I think back seven years ago when I was writing my first novel, I didn’t know what I was doing. Seven years later, I’m still learning – lots.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the old stories. A lot, actually. I’m proud of my first novel BEAUTY RISING, but can it be better? Yes. Can I apply things I know now and didn’t know then to make it better? Yes. Will I do it? I will try. (There is a thing called time, you know.)

So I am hoping to do something like Kerry does. I’m not going to change the stories. The heart of the story will remain, but I might rework the language. I make color passages in a more interesting way. I may delete adverbs which I seemed to like so well back then. I’m looking forward to doing a new re-edit on some of my old stories to help freshen them up with my new rounds of knowledge about writing.

If it’s good enough for Kerry, it’s good enough for me. What about you?

Writing Progress isn’t Always Visible

A month ago, I boasted that the first novel in my first trilogy was complete and the second novel is half-written.

Today, I can boast that the first novel in my first trilogy is almost complete and the second novel is half-written.

Wait. What? Am I moving backwards?

It may feel like that. Writing has a way of moving at a glacial pace. But that is okay, even preferable. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards if you want to jump two steps ahead.

I started writing this first novel back in December 2015. Trust me, I’ve never dilly-dallied so much. The issue arose when I decided that the story needed to continue, so I put the brakes on my novel in hopes of mapping out where I wanted the story to go.

I assured myself that the first novel was still complete. Just in waiting.

I was wrong. So I revised it once again.

Then I pushed on to novel two and got about half way through it when I realized that novel one still wasn’t sitting right in the pit of my writing stomach. I sighed deeply and decided to look at it once more. I am so glad I did.

Besides fighting back some discrepancies which arose from writing book 2, I found a host of other mistakes and poorly worded phrases which I swear were NOT there the last time I edited it. Those blasted writing gremlins. Sabotage. Clearly. I had actually sent this previous version to my editor whom I am glad hadn’t started reading it yet. Because, no! Stop! It wasn’t ready. Just kidding.

It can feel like I’m getting nowhere because book 2 is still only half way complete. That was last month’s news as well.

But I look at it like this. I am strengthening the foundation and core of this entire story. By revising one more time, I am pushing the quality to a new height which will benefit all three of the books of the trilogy.

Writing progress comes in many forms. It’s not only when you write a new chapter. It’s also when you put the building blocks in place to create better chapters in the future.

I had an artificial timeline of when I wanted to release this first book, but all that must take a back seat to quality. Must. Timelines and expectations have to wait.

I want to do this right, so let the unseen writing hand get to work.

 

 

 

 

Tedious Editing & a Decision about Kindle Scout

I recently received the manuscript back from my editor for my new novel A Love Story for a Nation. 

Once that happens, the gears start turning and the planning begins.

The first step is to obviously fix the mistakes and issues brought up by my editor. This is what I can tedious editing – the minutia of grammar and syntax that is ever so boring but also extremely important. I find it especially tedious because there’s nothing creative about it – it’s simply find and fix with the occasional re-write and re-phrasing.

Once I finish my tedious editing, I do another complete read through. I read it out loud to get a feel for the language and flow. On this final read through I fix any other mistakes I encounter along the way – though at this point the manuscript is ready for publishing. Of course, I do find phrasing and words that I want to change. A writer can never be completely satisfied. There’s always a danger of making changes at this point because what if I make a silly mistake that I don’t catch? It’s been known to happen, but it doesn’t stop me.

Once my final read-through is complete, I will typically produce an ARC which I make available to bloggers and reviewers.

But I’m not doing that this time because I’ve decided to give Kindle Scout a try. Kindle Scout is Amazon’s reader-driven publishing program. Any new, previously unpublished manuscript can be added to the site for 30 days. The more traction the book gets with readers will help it to attract more attention to Kindle Scout editors who may offer to publish it on Kindle Press. What’s most attractive about this program is that an author will know for sure with forty-five days whether Kindle Press will be publishing your book or not. If it chooses not to, then all digital and audio rights go back to the author.

I was happy to see Fiction and Literature finally being added as a new genre for Kindle Scout. This helped me decide to give it a try.

My goal is to have my new novel live on Kindle Scout by the middle of April. That way, I’ll have a decision from them by around the first of June.

If they decide not to publish it, then I will self-publish in mid-July.

Please keep your eye out for more information about my book on Kindle Scout. Your nomination on the site could help me land a publishing deal. That’s pretty cool. Even if it doesn’t happen, I am curious to see how the program works, and I’ll report back on my experience.

I guess that also means I need to release my book cover. Soon!

I Don’t Have the Luxury of Agonizing over Words

What brought this topic on was that I was revising my new novel’s manuscript last night and I read and re-read one sentence which I knew could be better, but it just wasn’t fixing itself and my brain wasn’t helping. I finally moved on, realizing that I would have to live with that phrase for better or worse. It got me thinking: how many phrases do I accept because I don’t have time to agonize over them anymore? Honestly, more than I’d like it to be.This is the sad reality that I have an indie author – and perhaps others feel the same: I don’t have the luxury of agonizing over every sentence and every word in my novels.

Oh, I could, if I wanted to release new works much less frequently, but the reality of my life comes down to the fact that my writing time per year is extremely regulated by other non-writing realities which actually put food on the table.

Does this mean that I sacrifice quality for quantity? I hope not, but it is a struggle to find the right balance. I’m currently in a writing and publishing cycle where I publish a novel on average of every 8 months. The one I’m releasing this summer will be a full year, but I think my next one won’t take that long to release into the wild.

However, if I were to put time into every sentence and agonize over every word, I would literally have to push back timelines a good six months, and I’m not comfortable with that.

It doesn’t mean I don’t go over and revise every sentence; I do. But each time I read a manuscript different phrasing and new words pop into my mind. Oftentimes I can find a better way to say things or I can at least tweak a sentence to make it better, but do I always find the best and most awesome and amazing prose? No.

If I didn’t have a job, a family, other responsibilities, what could the possibilities be? What type of elevated prose would I be able to produce? (I don’t mean elevated in a stuffy sense. I hate that kind of writing.)

But I keep coming back to the following thought: stay grounded in what I can do, and don’t worry about what I can’t.

Can I write a quality story every 8-12 months given my current situation? Yes. I am grateful that this is possible. Could my novels be better? Well, couldn’t almost every novel be better?

 

That Sinking Feeling that a New Novel is Almost Ready

I spent part of the afternoon looking over some edits I received back from my proofreader for my third novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree.

As I was polishing some language and grammar, I found myself analyzing every word I had written. Sudden angst welled up within me, and I started to think that perhaps this novel isn’t ready for a readership yet. I started doubting that I was ready to finish the publishing process with this book. I started wondering if it was any good and if anyone would like it.

In other words, I found myself in the exact same place I had been before just a few months before the release date of my other novels. That thought gave me some comfort that perhaps I needed to calm down and trust the process.

No book is ever complete. I could tweak and rewrite and manipulate this novel for another five years, but what would that prove? Very little, really. I finished writing it about ten months ago. Then I took it through a dual editing process. I sent it to beta readers and received a lot of great feedback. I let it sit for a few months and came back to it again at the first of the year. I heard from some more readers and then went through another editing process in order to bring it to my final round of proofreading.

I’m still not satisfied. I still have that sinking feeling that something is wrong and no one will like it. But I have the good sense to ignore fleeting doubts and move forward. I won’t allow myself to be paralyzed by something that may or may not happen. It’s time to release the novel.

So once the edits are complete, the formatting will begin on the paperback, and I’ll be sending our ARCs to a bunch of reviewers leading up to its release.

But you can be sure in the meantime, I’ll probably sneak in one more read-through just to satisfy me.