In search of (writing) perfection

Here I am on the first or second day of spring. It was fantastic. Got the dogs out a couple times and even walked to town. It was only two blocks but hey- I did it. Last summer and fall I was fairly certain I would have a book ready about February time frame. Summer and Fall came and went, now guess what? Yes, Winter is gone too. I saw a pair of robins at least a month ago and it has been bitter cold since then, I think they may regret falling for the trick of an early spring. Did the book get done in February? Kind of yes and no. I definitely had a rough draft done. I even went as far as to get a paper proof which led to a massive batch of edits across the board. The problem might be this has led to the unending batch of edits. I don't really mean problem let's just call it "the situation." It's not a problem, its part of the process. A very necessary part of the process as frustrating as it gets.

This should mean I am making progress and learning. I must be. Can I pinpoint any specifics? Yes, if I had to nail it down, my biggest problem is confusion. Not confusion on my part other than my role in writing passages that don't make sense to anyone but me or leaving out details that I know but there is no way the reader does- especially when I don't include them. This might sound obvious, but it's not. I know all the details of the story, for the most part, I really know what happened in the story. So much so, I skip details while I am trying to stuff them to my computer.

How can I avoid this? I do not have the answer. I believe it is more than discipline. How I have discovered the problems is an easier question to answer. Step back and let someone else read it to provide the objective observer. The answer seems obvious but it is not necessarily as easy as it sounds either. Finding someone willing to read part of a book, much less the whole thing is a pretty big favor to ask.  Big isn't the right word, it's huge. Getting them to provide a minor amount of feedback- a monumental act of generosity. Fortunately, I have a couple of people who have helped in this area, this is a giant blessing. Fortunately for my wife, it's not her, she has the book almost memorized by now which may lead to therapy on its own merit. I cannot spend the better part of a year explaining a story and step back even a couple weeks and come at it objectively, I have tried- it doesn't work.

At this point, my expectations for perfection have taken away most of my "I'm going to write what I'm going to write" attitude and replaced it with something a little more dangerous- knowledge and experience. I will admit it is not a great deal of either attribute but taking everything as a learning opportunity adds to both. As with any creative work, I have to decide when it is as good as I can do at this moment. Hopefully, I could do better at any time in the future or I am not growing. This doesn't need to mean the best thing ever done, but I think it needs to mean the best I can do where I am right now. After time has passed I certainly hope I will have evolved more and my level of perfection will remain the same- I will need to do the best I possibly can. That's all I can do, my personal best and trust me here, that is not a very low bar.

My mom has a great line she has used ever since I can remember. It goes something like this- "when people offer you advice, just politely listen, thank them and go do whatever it was you were going to do." It is kind of funny and if you knew my mom you would think it's hilarious but it is a deeper thought and one worth thinking about.

Little things I've Learned about Editing a Book.

Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. But why bother, it's still an old dog. I very recently completed reading my second entire book on a tablet. Not a stone tablet, an electronic one. Big deal? For me it was. I have owned a Samsung tab for years and for certain things I really love it. Reading books has not been one of them (old dog). I still prefer paper but I had an ebook given to me. I really wanted to read it. There you go. I also recently got a Samsung tab e which is a huge improvement over the old one and I find myself using it for just about everything-ha, including reading. But wait there's more.

When I was in the endless editing of Firetok, I would print off chapters and even the whole book on computer paper. I would read the first paragraph or so to realize I had numerous problems, say a lot of bad words, edit and do it again. I wasted so much paper. I still contend doing a final couple of go throughs on paper is the way for me. I don't see that changing. Seeing and reading and comprehending and everything else- are very different on a screen than a piece of paper in my hand. It is even different from my monitor to my tablet. There is science to it and very smart people have concluded their conclusions. I am not one of them smart people but my conclusion is the same. It just works for me, let the scientists explain why ... but.

But what? Well, I thought I might share how I am doing it this time and what I have learned in the spirit of sharing my experience. I am fairly deep in the edits for the sequel to Firetok, Harbinger of Calamity. So deep, in fact, I am somewhere near the point of wondering if I did anything right or if I should be looking at wordless picture books. If you have written much, you know the spot I'm talking about. I have read the whole book numerous times front to back- editing and cursing all the way. When I got to the point that my eyes could no longer see mistakes, I uploaded the files to CreateSpace exactly as if I were going to publish. Which I am- but not yet. I put my cover prototype in, made up some mumbo jumbo bull crap for a temporary description, jump through their hoops and get to the publish part.

Here's the part I learned, you don't actually publish yet. Matter of fact they won't allow you to publish until you have proofed the book. Yeah, yeah, yeah any dope would know that. I didn't and remember all the paper and ink I wasted?

Part of the process allows you to proof via pdf which is handy. I can download the exact file and go through it again. I did, but just for looking at formatting, I didn't actually read it again at this point. When my confidence was really strong I uploaded the most recent pdf to CS (you can do this over and over- trust me) and ordered a paper proof. Why? Partially for the reasons I touched on, partially because I know the cover looks a lot different in print than it does on my screen. Go figure.

Guess what? You don't actually have to guess, I'll tell you. I had multi-numerous changes to make. Some I made before the proof even delivered. I should have known. I had the cover nearly completely redone too. Go figure some more.

So now I have made it through tablet reading therapy, how can I use the experience to my benefit? I use LibreOffice for my editing which has an export directly as pdf button. Super easy. Export it to my pdf file and open up my google books account. The same one I read Mind Games and Witches of Ashford Place on. But what I didn't know is that I can upload my own pdfs to my google books. La di da. Now I can proof my book in my tablet and when I realize on page one I have a mistake ... edit, reupload and blam. It's as easy as getting spam. It took me a couple times to perfect but now I can take the proof on the road, open it up from any device and keep going. I wish I figured this out before I ordered the paper proof. There have been days I upload a different version each day, depending on what changes I made. It has been a big improvement to my process. So what now? I have read it aloud a full time off the tablet, making changes along the way. What's next? More editing of course. Another read aloud and more cursing, a lot less wasted paper.

What I have learned is that I will do more read aloud before I even commit to the paper proof. I was not as close as I thought. The one downside is, I have not yet figured out how to make notes or highlight in the pdf proof- this would make the process immeasurably better. I still have to go back to the document to edit. What I forgot to mention is the paper proof is almost no dollars. It is way cheaper than printer ink and a box of paper that's going to get trashed in a fit of edit-rage and it is a chance to see the cover and overall layout, leaving me room for more changes.

Time for another round of read aloud, editing, cursing and gnashing of teeth. I'll keep you posted.