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The Scary Thing About Publication

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Jul. 5th, 2008 | 09:31 pm
mood: contentcontent

Yesterday, Renard's Menagerie sent me the final proof for my story that they're buying. This was massively exciting to me: there was my story, but looking slick and magazine-like, with the first letter of each section all big and the whole thing in a very slick font. And one other thing -

- the writing wasn't as good as I could do now.

Mostly, I blame the fact that I wrote this story before taking two semesters of Advanced Creative Writing with Professor Robbins. Those classes made a world of difference in the quality of my writing. I did edit the story after that, but not mercilessly enough, clearly.

This feeling has struck me before. I often get nerves about submitting work for possible publication, because I have seen work that I liked, work I thought was good, get much better after I edit. What's to say that this work I now think is good, good enough for publication, isn't one more edit away from massive improvements? Publication takes a work out of a fluid, easily-edited state and effectively carves it in stone for anyone who cares to look. Personal pride dictates that I send out only work that is as good as I think I can possibly make it. Obviously, I can't keep giving it edit after edit, or I would never send anything out, but it is tough to decide that something is good enough.

It isn't just a question of whether the writing is good enough for the public eye. In many cases, as you surely know, the work doesn't reach the public just because you've sent it out to an editor or two. And there's the other risk: if the magazine or agent rejects the story or novel, and then I edit and improve it, they likely won't want to see the same piece again. This happens to me quite a bit, and is especially tough with novels, because agents more frequently accept multiple submissions than magazine editors, so you're more likely to have hit them all with the unedited version, and be left not knowing where to turn once you've fixed it up. So there's that balance. Sending out work that's not as good as it can be spells failure (or, if accepted, a bit of cringing at the knowledge that the general public will read a piece of your work that's not at its best). On the other hand, you've got to send it out sometime!

I think this hits me particularly hard because my serious writing career is pretty young. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, for a high school creative writing class. Since then, I've edited it at least twice, and I shudder at the idea of people reading the original. My fantasy world - totally removed from Earth - had people speaking Latin. And calling it "Latin." I laugh to remember that I did, in fact, send the manuscript around to agents when I was about seventeen. Not only have my fiction writing and editing skills improved vastly since then; my query letters have gotten better, as has my judgment of when work is ready to send out. Experience, reading, research, editing, classes, and - of course - writing, have all helped me.

To return to my original subject, I should point out that the story picked by Reynard's Menagerie is far from worthless. It isn't confusing, and contains no errors, just the occasional flabby or awkward sentence. True, if I wrote it today, the prose would be more polished, but:

1. The story is not in my usual style, which made it more difficult to edit.

2. When editing this piece, I was distracted from the prose by the storyline, of which I'm rather proud. In this latest reading, I finally got past the storyline because of how many times I've read the piece lately, and was able to look at the prose on its own. (Thus explaining how I didn't notice its iffiness in earlier proofs.) Such is my theory, anyway.

3. Most importantly, it will soon be published. Whatever I publish next may be better edited, but this one will still be a valuable literary envoy from me to the world. And I get a little experience with the world of professional writing, as well as a check.

So, while it was a blow to see work that I could improve in this final proof (extensive editing is NOT the reason the magazine sends people final proofs, or I wouldn't be having this issue at all), I can dust myself off, pick up my laptop, and use this as motivation to be a more stringent editor. After all, what better incentive than presenting my very best work to legions of potential adoring fans? :)

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Comments {4}

The happy phantom

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from: miss_maxine
date: Jul. 6th, 2008 04:01 am (UTC)

Oh gosh. That's tough. I think I was lucky with my story-- I mean, I got the proofs about a year after I wrote it and although I'd learned a great deal about writing in the interval, "The Firebird" was kind of an exceptionally good story from me, so there wasn't actually that nasty feeling of "but I could do better" that I usually get when I look back over old stories. Although I did permit myself to edit some awkward turns of phrase I found in the proofs.

That being said, I get the impression that this happens with lots of authors. Big-name authors. I was actually just reading that Patricia C. Wrede made substantial edits to her first novel years after its publication and re-issued the result.

Personal pride dictates that I send out only work that is as good as I think I can possibly make it.
Modify that. You should send out work that's as good as you can possibly make it at the time. I mean, at the time you sent it out, are you sure you were then capable of improving the story to the extent that you wish you could now? If not, then I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Ironically, I'm often too cavalier about editing. I've definitely sent out stories that I should have put away for a week or two and then edited again. Partly this is because I feel acutely embarrassed when reading my own work, and prefer to avoid this feeling. I'll try to make myself get over that with my new story. You know, once I get around to writing it. (Two paragraphs so far! It's still progress!)

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"Also, I can kill you with my brain."

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from: toastedcheese
date: Jul. 6th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)

I just glanced at my first novel the other day for the first time in like six months and had the same reaction - most of the writing is fine, but there are definitely some aggressively bad sentences. It's annoying, because I don't want to do any more line editing until I get to England and can do some setting research....

I think dissatisfaction with old work is pretty inevitable for writers, though. It is annoying when you still really like a concept but the writing itself sucks.

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(no subject)

from: sunshinecampusa
date: Jul. 8th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)

Speaking of your legions of adoring fans, this one has a question. You know how, a few days back, you made up some story topics to illustrate how most magazines are about the world and how different you can make it? The funny thing is, I really wanted to read those stories, and was rather sad to find out you made them up. Have you thought about expanding those examples into short stories? It would at least please this fan, and the ideas are insanely creative (which makes me green with envy. I can't be that creative if I tried, and you come up with fabulous ideas completely off-hand?). If not, ignore me. But if you are having a lot of trouble with the magazines about worlds, you already have great ideas right there. However, there may be some really good reason you can easily spot that I, with no creative bones in my body, can't. So, just a suggestion!

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from: sunshinecampusa
date: Jul. 8th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)

I just realized how terrible those last lines read. This is why you beat me at English all those years. And why YOU became the writer.

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