The Most Important Writing Lesson of All

I finally managed to get a galley proof of my book. But the expected euphoria at holding an actual work of art produced by my own self did not appear.

I didn’t like the look of it, the feel of it or the size of it. At 110,000 words I’d expected a doorstop sized whacking big thing, but no. It looked like a thicker version of a half-sized comic. The champagne stayed in the fridge and the party hats remained in their boxes.

And that was just the start of it.

Holding the Book

Holding the Book

But as I’ve learned in life it’s the setbacks that teach you the most. And a very big lesson was just round the corner as I sat down to read my own book in print.

The experience was completely different to the 800+ times I’d read it in A4 size electronic format. It was even different from the version I downloaded from Kindle. It was a revelation.

Every author has probably read their first chapter hundreds of times. Trying to get it right. The one chapter that sets the scene, hooks the reader and foreshadows the tale to come. As I read my first chapter for the first time in print the book took on a different feel. I could almost see the words threading through the page ahead of me, like a narrow pathway leading me into the story. The plot unfolded more slowly, the characters seemed sharper and the hints on what was to come were more subtle.

It was a different book. It was an actual honest to goodness novel, not just electronic words dancing on a screen that one day would become a book. It was real.

I reached for a party hat…..

Then I noticed that some of the typeset wasn’t quite right. The chapter titles weren’t centre-justified. There were grammatical errors even after the two professional edits and the hundreds of searches through the text for missed capitals, commas in the wrong place and quotation marks not closed. The hundreds of hours spent finishing the book for a Kindle upload looked hopelessly inadequate. The book just wasn’t publishable, I’d jumped the gun like so many of my fellow writers. I’d wanted to finish the book so badly I ignored the advice to ‘edit the book to death’ before it went public.

So, on a plane last night I sat with a pen and a highlighter going over the text once more. I edited it backwards so that I wouldn’t get wound into the story and end up being more interested in the hero’s arc that the punctuation.

It’s going to take some time to fix. No-one said it would be easy.

But, to date, it’s the most important writing lesson I’ve learned.

And it’s a lesson that we all probably have to learn at some point.

9 thoughts on “The Most Important Writing Lesson of All

  1. Perhaps not yet perfect, but congrats on getting farther than most writers ever will. I have started many a book. But perfectionism leads me to never finish. It’s a great feat to know when to stop editing and give it wings. OK, a few typos, but, overall, you’ve done it!

  2. Saw this through Seumas’ blog. He’s right, it is a good post. It isn’t just self-pubbed books that are littered with mistakes either. I’m sure you’re right, that reading your own book in print is a completely different experience from reading it on screen. Reading almost with a fresh pair of eyes will pick up the mistakes the weary, screen-focused eyes didn’t notice. We have been warned.

  3. Great subject lesson, Jim. I too had my novel professionally edited, and worked with the editor to get it perfect. Even after multiple go-rounds, my Beta team still found mistakes…lessons hard learned, eh?
    Thomas Rydder

  4. Congratulations for getting your book in print, Jim!

    Perfect books don’t exist. I was in the audience at a writers’ conference and A. Manette Mansay read from her novel that had just won a huge literary award. After the reading, someone asked how she had known when it was finished. She laughed, and said she’d changed some words around as she read to us. Since then, I haven’t worried as much about perfection. Do your best, then let the novel go find its audience.

    Best of luck with iNation!

    Carole

    • A writer friend of mine said ‘I uploaded a different version of the book to Kindle, but nobody buys the same book twice so I’m the only one who knows’.

      I’m not looking for perfection – it’s finding sentences that are only half finished that dismays me. But I’ll get there.

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