Let me start out with the best news of all: I just signed a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. The first of those two books will be THE FAULT TREE, the story of a blind female auto mechanic who overhears a murder take place. Think “Wait Until Dark,” with a protagonist who knows how to change the oil in your Chevy.
Now the bad news. I just got the editorial notes from Michael Homler, my new editor at St. Martin’s. I haven’t met him yet, but his voice still holds a passion for this business, and his words waft down like rose petals on my head.
He loves the book. He says things like, “Don’t you dare change a word here. This is one of the best scenes in the book.” He says, “Your writing is too fine to touch.”
He did ask if I’d think about deleting one sentence. I’ve given it some thought. He’s right.
But here’s where he’s wrong.
I haven’t read the manuscript for a couple of months now, so I’m approaching it with fresh eyes.
Whatever made me think those words could come out of that character’s mouth? Why didn’t I change that hackneyed phrase before anyone outside my nuclear family ever read this tripe? How is it possible that I’ve strung together 80,000 words of pure shit?
And he doesn’t want me to change anything.
Last week Simon Wood wrote about tinkering with a manuscript he thought was already done. He approached that rewrite with the attitude that he’d grown and improved in his writing since it was first “finished.”
I’m approaching this revision with the cowering, cringing mantra: “What could I have been thinking?”
The gang over at First Offenders calls this syndrome: ITOTALLYSUCKITIS.
I totally understand ITOTALLYSUCKITIS.
In typical insecure-author behavior, I emailed my buddy, Jude Greber. “The pacing is glacial. The writing is drivel. I hate it.”
“Oh yeah, I heard that St. Martin’s was looking for a particularly plodding, badly written book for next year. Glad you guys got together,” she replied.
Sarcasm doesn’t become her.
I hear that some authors have inflated egos. That they’re stunned when their work is not recognized with awards and Top Ten rankings. When reviewers call it “a good read” instead of “a great read.”
I’m not one of them.When I read a review of my work, my eyes skim over everything until I get to the word "however." Sometimes it’s "but." The rest of the sentence will be seared onto my retinas forever.
I swoon when an editor says nice things. I renamed my dog after the sweet reader who sent a complimentary email. (I’d rename a child, but I don’t have one.)
And then I question their taste and their judgment.
What is it about author insecurities that we’re more than willing to accept the criticism, but find it hard to embrace the accolades? Or maybe it’s a personal character flaw, and has nothing to do with writing at all.
In any case, I held my nose as I approached the revision. To paraphrase a C&W song-writing cousin of mine, I’d rather be knee deep in disease and go bald-headed from the burning fever than to have to go back through this manuscript again. But I did.
Hey, wait a minute, there’s a nice turn of phrase on page fourteen. And that minor character from the auto body shop still makes me laugh.
And you know what? Michael’s right about this scene. It doesn’t need any changes at all.
What about you other writer guys? Do you accept a pat on the back as readily as a slap on the face? Or is it the other way around? Any readers want to chime in on the lack o’ confidence question?