My debut novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire, was recently released into the big wide world. What’s a writer to do after that? If you’re somewhat normal, you’d put your feet up and relax. If you’re a compulsive writer, well, you’d work on the next project.
I’m in the compulsive camp. In my opinion, the best way to avoid obsessing about one book is to work on another. So that’s what I’m doing. My next release will be a novel I wrote three years ago. Until recently, I hadn’t viewed the manuscript for over a year.
With great trepidation, I opened the document. I read through it with fresh eyes. What was I hoping for?
Awe at my own brilliance!
What I saw instead was:
Repetitive sentence structure!
But...but...but...I’ve written so many words since this draft. I’ve read craft book after craft book. I’ve critiqued other work and learned along the way. My manuscript should not be this clunky. It should not require this many deletes. I was disappointed in myself as a writer.
Had I wasted all those hours at the keyboard? Had I not moved forward at all? Had I not matured as a writer?
Thankfully I read this great post by Jody Hedlund: The Value of Clocking in Time and Words. In her post, Jody detailed what she’d learned by opening an older manuscript. She could see her work as a stranger would see it, she’d learned a lot about how to edit over the past years, and she’d matured as a writer.
It dawned on me that I should be thankful I’d noticed the weak opening, wordy passages, and repetitive sentence structure. Why? It proved I had moved forward. I could now see what I hadn’t seen before. The opening that used to look strong now stood out as weak. The wordy passages that seemed necessary no longer were. The repetitive sentence structure that used to thrill me now looked irritating. The beauty was, I could see it.
Half our battle is not only knowing when something doesn’t work well, but knowing why. If you’re able to read a passage in your own manuscript and think, Bingo...weak verb, or Bingo...melodramatic, you’ve come a long way. Recognizing what doesn’t work and why is major progress.
Like Jody Hedlund points out, when we write a book, it’s the best we can write at that moment for where we’re at on our journey. I find comfort in the fact that I don’t have to be a perfect writer right now. I have to be the best writer I can be right now, in this moment.
Will my future books equal the same quality as my current books? I hope not. I hope they’re better. I’m clocking in the writing time and putting words on the page. That’s the secret to maturing as a writer.
How about you, fellow writers? Have you opened older manuscripts and cringed? Were you able to see what didn’t work and why? How have you matured as a writer?
Julie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her novel The Boy Who Loved Fire is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.