It seems inevitable. You work on something for days, weeks, even months. You reach the point where you’re satisfied that this is a good, finished product. You click “Publish” or “Submit” or some equivalent…
…and immediately you notice mistakes.
I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and completed a manuscript of a novel inspired by current events. Then I deployed to the Mid-East for almost four months, with grand intentions of re-reading and revising the draft (as well as finishing my fantasy novel, and starting a futuristic military novel).
You know what they say about the best laid plans, and this was no exception.
In late May or early June I got the email from the nanowrimo account warning me that I would lose my reward of two free hard copies from CreateSpace if I didn’t use them by the end of June. I refocused my attention on the manuscript and got it ready for public release. I sent the materials into CreateSpace and started working on reformatting the document for the Kindle edition.
Then I found the issues I wish I noticed sooner: two supporting characters whose plot threads could have been expanded and better resolved. Later feedback revealed an erroneous technical detail about hospital equipment that a little more research might have resolved. And while I got good in-person reviews from a couple first readers, I also learned they had a hard time connecting to the main characters–feeling what the characters felt, sensing their reactions to the various crises in the plot.
So while I chalk this up as a win, I also have to recognize where I could have done better.
1. Critique is essential. Bad on me for skipping it, since I wrote a book about this. Other readers see the weaknesses and mistakes I cannot. If I wasn’t going to pay the money for a professional editor, I should have taken the time to solicit some alpha readers’ input.
2. There are five senses. It’s basic advice but a great reminder. A lot of the description in the novel provided sufficient detail for sight and somewhat for sound. But there are missed moments where taste, touch, and smell could have shined.
3. Plot like a roller coaster. Let the drama rise and fall to create pauses and build tension between rushes of excitement. Perhaps in the interest of trying to create good hooks, my characters go through a never-ending rush of drama, from one crisis to the next. I’m not saying everything should be happy go-lucky, but I could’ve included a few beats of humor or serenity in the midst of the chaos.
4. Good writing outshines wordplay trickery. I went with two characters with the same name as a way of driving home the point that we’re all pretty similar. In retrospect, the confusion that causes for readers doesn’t seem to be worth any supposed payoff. (Critique would have caught this… to her credit, my wife told me this was a problem and I foolishly went along with my grand plan instead.)
5. There’s no rush if you’re self-publishing. I let myself be fooled by the “deadline” of the nanowrimo reward. But that reward only saved me maybe five dollars. On the one hand, it spurred me to finish the project and get it out into the open, which I might not have otherwise done. On the other hand, it created a false sense of urgency that blinded me to some of the areas where I could have written a much better novel. Better to get it right than to regret missed opportunities. Like many things in life, victory in the battle to become a writer goes sometimes not to the swift.
Lessons (hopefully) learned. I will do better next time.