Wednesday, November 06, 2013

On literary readings and the blessings of being cursed with the best beta reader in the world

Last night, I attended a reading by YA fantasy author Jonathan Stroud. You probably know his stuff. Bartimaeus. Need I say more? No? Thought so.
The first book of his new series Lockwood & Co is now published, and he graced my humble town with his presence to do what every author is loath to do: advertising. Really. I'm not saying that I have a huge wealth of experience, but so far I've yet to meet a writer who doesn't cringe at the thought of doing marketing. Let someone else do it. Let us just stay safely behind our little screens and write. Please.
Admittedly, Mr. Stroud made a pretty good job of it. And when he asked for a volunteer from the audience, guess whose hand flew up faster than anybody else's. Instant fun ensued. For the next ten or fifteen minutes, I had the questionable honor of getting dressed up as a teenage ghost hunter, complete with salt bomb, sword, sunglasses and a tube of magnesium flare (do not use indoors). It was a nice opportunity, too, to practice my language skills on a living object with a beautiful British accent.
Yes, the temptation was there. Hey, you, famous writer, I'm a bit of a writer, too, fancy taking a look at my pathetic efforts? 
I did not do that. The things you believe me capable of, really.

Mr. Stroud read the introduction to his new book, The Screaming Staircase, which appears to be a very fine tale. So, yes, this is a recommendation. He looked pretty happy reading it, too.
And I sat there and couldn't help he still mentally editing?
You write. You re-write. You edit. You pass it on to some friends. You edit again. You pass it on to yet more people. You re-write. You edit some more. Until you come to the point when you just can't edit anymore. That's when you publish.
But, if you go on a book tour, and are forced to read the same chapter, again and again, night after night, do you flinch? Do you silently curse yourself, stumbling upon a sentence which you might have phrased better, or which could do with another comma?
Because, you see, the horrible, horrible truth is, editing is never done. If you think it's perfect, let your manuscript lie for a few weeks. Bet you'll find some new errors, inconsistencies and typos then.

Er...and yes, this is also some sort of apology. Or maybe I'm making excuses. Someone called me a slacker already, because I'm still not done with brushing up the sequel to Ratpaths. 
Guess why.
And re-writing.
And all because I have the best beta reader in the world. This most amazing woman throws my chapters right back into my face, together with some variant of the phrase:
You can do better.
Her merciless belief is what keeps me going, until I can provide yet another book I can be proud of.

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