The Worst Mistake when Writing a Book
I’m guilty. I wrote No Greater Illusion in a looming, gigantic silo. The massive double doors could only be opened by a rusty, antique key with a beautiful scroll design; and I was the only one who had possession of the key. All alone, I went into that silo with my laptop and my outline, I bolted those double doors from the inside, and I swallowed that old brass key. During my self-imposed captivity, I did not even tell anyone that I was writing a book. Yet, on occasion someone would find out anyway, and come knocking on the doors of the silo, asking me what I was doing in there and pleading with me to come out and share my story. I would just yell through the doors to leave me alone, and hustle back to my usual spot in the middle of the floor.
It wasn’t until the entire manuscript was done, that I retrieved the key and emerged from the silo, blinking rapidly at the harsh light of day and noting with wonder how the world had changed while I was locked away. When at last I was ready to offer my “completed” novel to the world, it had the perspective and influence of only one individual: Me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that posed a bit of a problem.
You see, I was much too close to the work. I was pouring my entire heart and soul into No Greater Illusion. I did not ask for any feedback or advice from others throughout the process, and I entertained no suggestions until the end. Which meant I was left with 3 things:
1) A bruised ego. I expected my first readers to praise No Greater Illusion, heralding it as the Next Great American Novel, a classic in the making, superbly written and absolutely perfect with no room for improvement at all. Ha! When people found mechanical errors and pointed out holes in the plot, I was shocked that the end result was not considered to be sheer perfection. I suspect I may not be the only author in the world who suffers from this same syndrome, but my condition was made all the worse by the musty air from inside that silo.
2) Conflicting emotions. It was hard to hear negative feedback about my work. I poured so much of myself into the novel that somehow criticism of the book felt like a direct rejection of me. Furthermore, I did not want to take all the suggestions that were given to me. On the one hand, I wanted NGI to be the best that it could be, but at the same time I wanted it to remain all mine. If someone said something that didn’t feel right to me, I had to make a tough decision on whether their suggestion had enough merit to incorporate into the story. Sometimes it did, and other times it didn’t. I struggled most with whether I should add the Epilogue. I know now that without it, the novel would have just ended too abruptly and perhaps disappointed some readers. However, when I was trying to decide whether to include an Epilogue, I struggled. After rewriting it and removing it three (yes, three!) separate times, I finally landed on something that felt right to me; and I was sure that it ultimately enhanced the novel. It was tough getting to that point though. In fact, it was nearly impossible.
3) A lot of work to do. Let’s face it. I am not perfect -- and neither is my book. Once my bruised ego healed and my emotions settled down, I realized there were many ways in which NGI could be improved and that my first readers had valuable input to help me along the journey. Feedback enabled me to eliminate some areas with stilted dialogue, unnecessary repetition, ineffective foreshadowing, and (perhaps most importantly) prompted me to the give the embedded microchips a brand name of SmartTag. Until that point, I had just been calling it a “MICROCHIP SCAN” throughout the novel - how generic!
The bottom line is that feedback from others is imperative. As the author, I am just too close to the work and there are so many things I simply did not see. Things that were hurting the story. If I had been sharing my progress with others from the start, I would not have had so much rework to do in the end, nor would I have taken their constructive criticism as a personal affront. While I am in no way obligated to take all the suggestions that are given to me, I do have a responsibility to at least be open to hearing them. I owe that much to my readers if I am serious about giving them the absolute best work I am capable of. And I am serious about that.
Therefore, I will not make the same mistake twice. I have already started my second novel, The Red Envelope - a story about an engaging, likable young man who is facing some large obstacles in his life and chooses an unconventional way to solve his problems. During his journey, he will be forced to make tough decisions while his integrity and moral code is tried at every turn. What he ends up doing may surprise you, but as the reader you will be with him from the start. And this time, my readers will be with me from the start.
I went back to that old silo to leave the rusty, brass key in the lock of those double doors. That way, someone else will be able to gain entry without having to look for the key; and anyone is free to use that big, lonely silo for their project. But it won’t be me.
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