By the time you read this, I’ll be done going through my backlist. The loss of some of my Vellum files spurred me on to the idea that if I was going to reformat them to get my files back, I might as well re-edit them too.
While I haven’t written anything fresh in quite some time, I’ve re-edited and reconstructed the Vellum files of seven books. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I took the time. I found tiny inconsistencies, typos, and in some earlier books, hammered out telling, and for some reason in On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton, lots of passive voice. (That is a weird speculative fiction kind of book, and I’m not sure where my mindset was when I wrote it. The other day someone borrowed it in KU, read one page earning me .01 cent, and returned it [I’m assuming they returned it because they didn’t read anymore.] I can’t say that I blame them any.)
I can see how I’ve grown as a writer and where I can still improve.
But probably the hardest thing for me is finally letting these books go. They are the best they are going to be. It’s a little scary because no writer wants to put subpar work out into the world, and when we put out books with spelling errors, typos, or plot holes that’s what we do.
My anxiety comes from thinking my books have them (even though they could be 100% clean) and I need to let that worry go. I had a moment of panic when I was fixing something in Wherever He Goes. I thought I fixed it and moved on. Later, I went back to reread what I had edited and I discovered autocorrect had changed a word I misspelled to something completely different than what I had intended. Even the word misspelled would have been better than what autocorrect inserted instead.
Suddenly, my life flash before my eyes and I envisioned my whole book full of autocorrected words rendering my pages to a book full of gibberish.
That isn’t likely to happen, but it’s enough to give any author hives. But no matter how many times we go over our books with a fine-tooth comb, chances of putting out a 100% error-free book are slim to none.
There will always be something to change and you get to the point where it’s not a change for the better–it’s only different.
There is a certain peace in knowing these books are as good as I can make them for the skills I have right at this minute. I fully believe that as writers we will never stop growing. We’ll try for twistier plots, more points of view, we’ll get better at breadcrumbing backstory and clues, and we won’t info dump at the beginning of stories. Our eyes will get sharper and we’ll catch more of our own mistakes and we’ll realize we have crutch words and weed them out before handing off our stuff to an editor.
We’ll refine our editing process and grow more efficient. Our first drafts will be cleaner.
When I was editing my Tower City trilogy, I came to two realizations: my writing from two years ago wasn’t as bad as I had thought, but my story (particularly the first book) was just as lackluster as I’d try to deny myself.
To be kind, you can call these books “quiet.” Internal conflict, some stuff going on, but not a lot of character growth, if you know what I mean, and if you don’t, in editor-speak that means not completely formed character arcs. I didn’t understand how to tie in past demons with the present story. What I did know came from instinct and a lifetime of reading romances. Sometimes the “beats” are ingrained and you know by feel what needs to go where. Some might say that’s skill, or talent, but I call it luck and it’s what made Don’t Run Away a half-way decent read as my first contemporary romance book.
In the second book, I had “Let’s meet an ex in a public place” scene like in the first book, and I don’t know if it was bad memory, or if I didn’t care, but at least I stopped that in my other books.
Part of the reformatting included doing a new box set for the trilogy and I wrote a “Where are they now” novella for the end. It was easy to write because I was fortunate to have written what I did in the original books. The novella practically wrote itself.
Now, even though the novella won’t make up for the slow start of book one, at least I can confidently brush my hands of that whole thing. They are re-edited, I changed the covers last year, and all the couples have a new happily ever after. There’s nothing more that I can, or even want, to do with those characters.
They are finally on their own.
Chasing perfect will never end well. Sometimes you’re at a point in your writing life where you can’t give it to yourself no matter how hard you try. Sure, I could write a better book one now, but what is the point when I could use my developing skills to write an entirely new book? If it were part of a ten-book series it might be worth it for the read-through, and if that’s you, then maybe it would be worth your time.
Like anything, your mileage may vary.
Some may see the time I took as a waste, but I disagree. If I found peace of mind in these two and a half months of going back and making sure my books were the best I can do as of Spring 2020, then it was worth it to me, but the trick now is to leave them alone and focus on the new.
My books aren’t dumpster fires. Maybe they aren’t 100% perfect, but no book is. I need to accept that, let my anxiety go that there are things that could be fixed. There probably are, but I need to forget about that and market my books with confidence.
Chasing perfect is an unattainable goal.
Maybe there are tiny fires in the form of an errant apostrophe, or a number I typed out that didn’t need to be, but I need to shrug those little things off, pull up a log, and grab my marshmallows.
A little fire doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
If you want to hear a talk about chasing perfection, Kristine Kathyrn Rusch has a great one she gave at 20booksto50k Vegas last year in 2019.
Also, just by chance, my friend Sarah also wrote a post on her blog a few days ago about her own struggles with perfection, and you can find it here: https://sarahkrewis.com/survivingperfectionisminwriting/