Friday, December 5, 2008

Mistakes Happen

Okay, there's been something bothering me lately, something that cropped up into my consciousness the way weeds do in an untended garden. And if I don't clip this particular mental weed, right now, It's going to choke me to death creatively.

I published a novel a little over a year ago, for middle readers. It was my first published work of fiction and I was proud of the accomplishment. I was scared, too.

Here I was, with a 404-page work, some 150,000 words. Two years of hard labor had produced an actual novel, with a beginning, middle, and an end. With characters talking and doing things. I had finally, at the age of 38, done something I truthfully thought I would do 20 years earlier.

I was elated. I was in love with my book. I reread the finished draft eight times, swimming in its pure perfection.

I was also in a hurry. I wanted to see the sucker in its final form: with a glossy cover, page numbers, my bio on the back.

So I made an executive decision to forgo paying for a professional editor. My only real BIG mistake of Surfacing. I mean, there were little ones here and there. Mistakes I mean. But really, the only BIG mistake, the rear view, hindsight-is-20/20 kind of mistake was not shelling out the $400 to have the thing scrutinized by a real editor.

Not by a friend. Not by some schmuck I used to work with at one of the three newspapers I used to work for back in the day. A real, honest-to-God, editor. Someone who could dig deep into the story but still catch the niggling grammatical slips.

I stand before you today and agree, had I done that last step before firing it off to be published, Surfacing would have been an improved story. That's how that works. It's common sense.

I admit it.

But in my defense, I was a boy with a new model airplane on his birthday. I wanted the thing to fly RIGHT NOW. And forgot to glue the parts together before sending her off on her maiden flight.

Some 15 months after the book was published, I am not unhappy with it. I don't lose sleep over the whole editor gaff. I've read it since it has been published, I catch a glitch here and there, but I'm supremely proud of the accomplishment.

Here's what is nagging at me. It was an email I received from a former coworker - of the newspaper variety - about six months after it was published. In it he begins by saying he purchased the book online and had read it.

Now, being that the book is for middle readers, when an adult tells me they've read it I'm a bit happily surprised. It's basic reading, folks. It's not John Le Carre. That's not being modest, but honest. It's a book for kids.

Anyway, he goes on to say, and I am quoting roughly here because I deleted the fucking email right away, "It's filled with mistakes."


I got stuck by that word. A splinter beneath the skin.

And then, he went on, "You really should have someone check your work."

I had one of those moments when you're being confronted by someone unexpectedly and the light around the corners of your vision blurs and your face gets really hot.

That was how the email ended. Not a word about whether he liked the story or the characters or something.

I went into a week-long tailspin after that email. I reread the book in search of all those errors, determined to find one on every page. I hammered my own ego with the various self-inflicting comments only writers can relate. Unworthy. Fraud. No talent. Poser

Different things happen to most writers when their delicate egos have been bruised. For me, I conjure old writing adversaries - the kid in my sophomore English class whose writings were glorified by our teacher while my own efforts were ignored. Or the guy I worked with at a newspaper who won awards for reporting when my own reporting fell short.

I'm better today. But lately that email has come back for some reason. Maybe it's because I'm 80,000 words into a new novel. I don't know. What I do know is that I am certain of this: that email was a shitty thing to do to someone. To say you don't like something is one thing. But to generalize and claim melodramatically that it was filled with errors was cruel. But, given who the person is - we were not friends at the paper, but mere colleagues - it makes more sense today.

Today, I weeded out a nasty strangler. One that has been creeping up again that I should have rooted out a long time ago.

By admitting that there will always be better writers, smarter writers, better-read writers. That's the way of things.

By learning from my mistake of not going through one last, professional edit.

But also by admitting to myself that Surfacing is not filled with errors, but a few.

And that that email writer is filled with shit.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this. And guess what? I also LOVE to edit! It's like some people's crack, or coffee, or nap; I find it relaxing, and it takes me away. Let me know if you ever need a little bit of editing done. 80,000? Save that one for your wife :)