I recently e-published my very first book, putting it up on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Traveler—a time-travel story about a Civil War soldier who comes forward in time—was written in 1994/95 and published in 1996 by Leisure Books, but has languished in out-of-print obscurity for a decade or more. E-pubbing for the first time was an interesting process, but as it has been exhaustively covered elsewhere, I’m not going to go into that here.
No, what I found interesting was re-visiting a book I’d written that I hadn’t looked at in probably fifteen years.
Anybody who’s ever written anything knows that on many days the outfit to wear for reading one’s own work would not be complete without mud-colored glasses. We can be our harshest critics, knowing just where to thrust the knife for maximum despair. What was polished once needs polishing again. What was never polished should be cut altogether. The plot’s unbelievable —the main character’s a fool—the book should really start at Chapter Five—and the whole thing reads like it was written by a fourth grader. What was I thinking?
I’ve read page proofs of books of mine about to be published that made me cringe with shame, and curse the page-proofing stage for its demand for close reading coupled with rules on limited input. Change a word, sure. Change a scene, forget it.
So I fully anticipated re-reading Traveler and wanting to gut the thing. I was ready to slash adjectives, adverbs, dependent clauses. Beef up plot, hack out internal thought, enhance characterization. I could do that now. I had the rights back. The book was all mine again—as it was when it was born—and the deadline was my own.
I sat down with mental red pen in hand (a.k.a. a keyboard with an eager Delete key.)
Imagine my surprise when I got caught up in the story. I actually liked the characters. The pacing was pretty good. Some of those adverbs even seemed necessary. I couldn’t always remember what was coming, but whenever I thought, “I should change it so that X and Y happen next,” I read on to discover that I’d already written X and Y! To my relief and surprise, the book worked. For me. One of its harshest critics.
While much is written about trusting the reader, maybe what we should be cultivating is trusting the writer. Try this on for size: You know what you’re doing. You’re actually good at this. You’re a reader so you know not only what you like, but what works.
If you’re a writer who’s spent too much time thinking about genre and marketing and rejections and reviews, here’s my advice. Throw out those mud-colored glasses and start entertaining yourself when you write. Have fun. I mean it. I had fun writing Traveler because it was my first book and I was writing for myself. Because of that, at least for me, the story holds together, even sixteen years later.
I’m sure there were days while writing it that I got discouraged and found I’d donned the mud-colored glasses without realizing it. But on the whole, I was writing free, and I think it shows. (And I mean that in the good way.)
P.S. For those of you who don’t own a pair of mud-colored glasses … I bow to you. But I’ve got some you can have, if you want.