When I rewrote Holland Bay, I put the thing away for a couple of months, then took it out again, giving it a thorough going over. Now it’s a proofread away from bestsellerdom. Right?
Eh, no. I put the thing away last July, started on the SF novel, and completely forgot about it. It’s been with someone with whom I’m trading edits since then, and I’ve had to explain to him that no, I don’t want to even know it exists right now. “But this scene on page 15…”
And I’m discovering the wisdom of that all over again. I took out Holland Bay after giving the SF novel a thorough read-thru and putting it away. This time, I printed it out and took a red pen to it. Thankfully, I can look at this thing as a manuscript and not [*Gasp!*] my baby! Which is good, because whole paragraphs are getting excised as I go through this again. Not sure what to expect from my edit when it’s returned, but yes, Holland Bay is going to take a little more work.
I had this experience with Bad Religion. My publisher imploded during the beta process, so the red ink I got back sat in a file cabinet gathering dust. A couple of things happened. One, I was able to see the story as a story and not something I birthed. Second, since I used three betas, I would get stressed out over conflicting suggesting or stylistic comments that just did not sit right with me. Now I had enough sense of myself as a writer to say no if something did not sound right, and I also had enough confidence to find changes that would work if the feedback sounded off. Why didn’t this work for this particular reader? Would someone else have the same or a similar problem? If the suggestion doesn’t work either, could there be another way to make it better.
Time has a way of divorcing you from your work. In the brave new world where self-publishing is a viable option but the one-book-a-year quota still exists in traditional publishing, the best way to do that is to go to work on something else. In my case, I went from Holland Bay to space opera aimed at the YA market. The Hunger Games is nothing like The Wire, which should give you a picture of how these projects differ. In Holland Bay, I made up a city that looks very much like your city and mine. In the SF project, I made up a whole world that looks just like Earth, only it doesn’t. One has a gritty, violent setting populated by people you know, or similar to people you know. They’re all morally ambiguous, and good and evil are not so clear cut. The other has character types you may know, but the conflict is clear: People from the sky want to take away land from people on the ground. It’s more complex than that, and the main villain of that story is human, but the end result is the same. The good guys wear white hats, the bad guys black, just like the old westerns. (Just without the inherent racism toward Indians.)
As a result, Holland Bay is a long novel about cops and drug gangs, and none of them are what you expect them to be. That line I thought was so clever last summer gets cut. A paragraph gets rearranged. A scene gets flagged for complete rewrite. And it doesn’t hurt a bit.
But a writer needs to step away from their work despite the temptation to get out there with it and push push push! They say you need to be prolific to succeed, but you don’t have to be prolific now. Better to be prolific and good instead of prolific just to be prolific. For those of you going the indie route, everyone from JA Konrath, who is self-publishing zealot defined, to Dean Wesley Smith will tell you that you need to have a good story before anyone will buy your stuff. Otherwise, you’re just wasting paper and storage space.
And the reader’s time.