So when I--the queen of kicking herself in the head to make you laugh--says you need to quit with the self-bashing, you might be inclined to make a pot/kettle reference. Believe me, I get it. As I write this I'm wondering when I'll make a joke at my own expense.
But seriously, something I've learned recently is too important for me not to share. Now, as I make my case I'll be addressing authors, but really this applies to everyone. Artists, singers, dancers, mothers, fathers, children of all ages...everyone.
I don't know how much you know about what happens between Book Contract and Publication Date. For the sake of brevity, I'm just going to say editing. Lots and lots of editing. And it might be different with other publishers, but my limited experience has seen me doing 5 rounds of editing since July 22, 2013.
Developmental edits (deep plot, structure, story changes) took a few weeks of work and multiple reads through the manuscript. Line edits (word choice, sentence flow etc) were another week or two and two more passes through the book-to-be. QA edits (quality assurance from the publisher), copy edits (proof-reading and continuity type stuff) and galley proofs (the final big proofread that also examines formatting) were all separate ventures of one (or two) passes within 2 or 3 days.
What that means is that I've read this book--at minimum--8 times since July 22. And keep in mind that the draft I submitted to my AGENT in 2011 was draft #9. The one we sent to publishers was #11. This puts me at approximately Draft #20 (I may have lost count somewhere or blacked out during an editing binge)...about half of the revisions taking place in a very condensed period of time.
Don't get me wrong. I love this book. It's fun, it's fabulous. I love the characters and cannot wait for that glorious November day when you can all read it. But right now, in October of 2013 when the book is 2 years old and on draft #20... I'm sick of hearing myself tell this story. I'm sick of my own voice. I'm so tired of listening to myself I would rather listen to Barry Manilow and William Shatner sing Les Miserables. (My husband says this isn't self-deprecation, it's self-flagellation. To-may-toe, to-mah-toe.)
While doing my galley proofs I was convinced that my publisher had been smoking something rockin' and that I would be shredded once they came to their senses. My feelings of inadequacy only deepened when I picked up the CARNIEPUNK anthology (finally!) and sunk my circus-loving eyeballs into it. Now...I won't go into any specifics, but I will say that there may or may not be multiple authors in this anthology who have graciously offered to blurb my book. Reading their work and knowing that they will be reading mine in return? My stomach is aquiver with a thousand carnivorous butterflies. Because they are truly talented--and because I'm annoyed with my own voice--their stories gleam and glisten like the sequins on a tightrope walker's belt.
And this--this, dear reader--is where I come to my point. Don't you dare kick yourself and compare yourself to other authors when you are in a vulnerable state. Don't compare your rough drafts to someone's highlight reel. Don't smack yourself around when you're weary of your stories simply because it's all you've read in months. Go home, author, you're drunk. You're drunk on self-loathing at this point. You've just spent months--perhaps years!--ripping apart your own work to make it the best it could be. You've been immersing yourself in the acidic brine of criticism and editing. You're on draft #20. OF COURSE YOU ONLY SEE FLAWS! OF COURSE EVERYONE ELSE LOOKS BETTER THAN YOU! (And they might be, but this isn't actually about them. It's about you and your perceptions.) You're wearing the world's worst set of beer goggles.
At times like this, do yourself a favor and stuff a ballgag in the mouth of your inner critic. Go read other books and do your damndest to enjoy them. Watch movies. Immerse yourself in other people's stories to cleanse your palate. Slough off the self-loathing and be content that you've finished a good story. A great story. A story people will love.
But, Jamie, you say, this is when other people are reading it and what if they hate it and omg *head asplodes*!
As I said, the book has started going out to other authors and soon review copies will hit the world. People I don't know will be reading this. And I'm scared and excited and terrified and bouncy and and and. Thing is, even those emotions can't be trusted. Because I'm coming from a place of annoyance, I'm somewhat convinced that my blurbers--gracious, beautiful, talented people they are--will hate me and my book. I've snowed my beta readers, my agent, several editors...but now surely they, these other professionals, will see me for the talentless hack I am.
Shut up, whiny head voice. You're full of shit.
It's true that Author McShinypants may not like my book. That's valid. You can't please everyone. But here's the thing. I know this story inside and out. I know all the twists, the turns and surprises like the back of my hand. I know the backstory. I know the future of the story. That affects my thinking. And it will yours, too. See, you know your story so intimately (or at least you should) that you forget what it's like to read it afresh, with virgin eyes. These authors, these editors...they get to see the show for the first time. Your book is a performer all dressed up in make-up and costume. The set pieces are finished and in place. The blocking is done and the orchestra has rehearsed. It's time for previews, baby. And your blurberators are in the front row. It all gets to play out for them for the first time. This is where you get to shine.
Basically what all this rambling comes down to is this: When you're down on yourself, step back. You're too close. Get out of the echo chamber that is your own head and regain your wonder.
And enjoy your work. Other people will not love your story if you don't first. It starts with you.
Edited to Add: As if to prove my point... as I was writing this blog post, my publicist emailed me her thoughts on some of the excerpts I sent her. She loves them. With exclamation points.