Thursday, January 26, 2012

Having Standards vs. Being a Royal Pain

One of my significant life lessons going on right now has to do with how to figuring out how to insist on high quality product without being the person people see emails from and say "Ugh, I can't deal with that right now." In terms of things I care about, "good enough" has never been an option for me. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn--trust me, it's more often a curse than a blessing.

The trouble with never being able to reach that point of "good enough," is that I constantly doubt. Every time I submit something, whether it's a drawing for a project, or an editing pass of a manuscript, or even put a meal on the table, I worry that I have not outdone myself enough for the creation to pass muster. After all, I could have done another layer of hard pencil tone over the grain of the drawing to make it just that much more satiny. I could have combed again for sentences that were less than artfully constructed. The enchiladas might have needed another dash of cumin or perhaps another few tablespoons of poblano.

The other trouble is that we live in a culture of "bare minimum for the sake of speed." You see it in businesses everywhere. The guy who works hard to get things absolutely right, but works slowly, is overlooked in favor of the guy who can do just enough to avoid having oversights link back to him, and his ability to both avoid blame and look productive get him ahead.

Luckily, it seems so far, that writing for a small press is a good fit for a chronic perfectionist like me. There's none of the sense of being swept along on the conveyor belt of the publishing machine when your work isn't wedged into a lineup of 25 books that need to release in the same quarter. Perhaps I will discover a different outlook by the time my novel releases, but for now, I have had no sense of being rushed by anyone but me. (And incidentally, I've been pretty pleased with my ability to forecast my self-imposed deadlines. There's something I don't have to harp on myself about!) After hearing horror stories from folks who have worked with big houses, how they have had to settle for books they felt needed more finessing, or covers that weren't quite on the mark, I am glad I am making my first foray into publishing with small presses.

What I'm also realizing, though, is that getting a book out on the market is much like what my former pastor used to say about getting a new car. He used to say, "Every new car needs one good dent." In the same way, I think every author needs to figure out how to take a deep breath and realize books launch with mistakes. It's inevitable, no matter how many excellent people go over my work, it will get printed with something missing, extra, or askew. And the sooner I can take a deep breath and realize my credibility as an artist will not crumble when the fans find those little errors, the closer to sane I will be.

"Sane" being relative, of course. After all, I am a writer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The First Mile Marker in the Marathon

Much to my surprise, I hit the editing deadline I had hoped to conquer this month.  Last night, with enough time to sit down afterward and pop in Russel Crowe's Robin Hood for an hour or so, I applied the final line edit to my novel. (And for the sake of calling it something and not just 'my novel,' let's go with Curse Bearer for now. It may prove to be a working title like Sword of the Patron did, but it's closer to pleasing my publisher as titles go, I think.)

Anyway, this first pass of publisher-requested edits has been a lesson in what makes a person an author instead of a hobbyist. Editing is hard work. It has its fun points, as you see the exfoliation of all the padding, redundancy, and just plain author self-indulgence, but there are also points where its a war. Self-doubt, vision, publisher expectations, artistic debates, and just plain fatigue all face off in a new Battle of the Five Armies. It's no wonder I'm relieved to get to the first milestone of having applied this round of edits.

It would be silly and naive of me to think the finish line is in sight, however. Though I can smile and indulge in a few well-earned squares of chocolate, there's so much more to do that I had best only focus ont he next immediate step, lest I paralyze myself with overthinking the rest of the race.

But run on I shall. Reading the entire manuscript through for idiocy that made it onto the page as I revamped presents itself as the next step.

All this in the midst of helping wrap up the final details on the art in Port Yonder Press's The Book of Silvari, as well as poise the print edition of The Windrider Saga for launch in just a few weeks. Yes, it's as crazy as it sounds. But if I have to pick, I'll take a full plate over an empty one.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Plaster Dust

Have you ever worked at any length with plaster of Paris? We did a unit about molding and casting in my three dimensional design class my freshman year of college, which involved the use of quite a bit of plaster. I thoroughly enjoyed the plaster lathing and later, the casting process, but the one thing I did not entirely love about plaster is the way it sucks the moisture from human skin like some kind of alien species. My hands were a cracked ruin while I worked in plaster. But the final products of the labor were always gratifying.

Why in the world am I telling you this? All for the sake of what has probably already become a bloated metaphor, but if you've been reading my blog posts for any amount of time, you're likely used to that from me. Anyway, I must admit, I am in a spiritual state right now that is as dry as a box of powdered plaster--so spiritually dry that I fear my parched state could be leeching the life-giving moisture from anything that comes in contact with me. And how did I get this way? By a systematic neglect of Bible study.

When I say Bible study, I don't mean a neglect of going someplace were people meet and discuss homework passages from a LifeWay workbook. What I mean is disciplined, regular study of the scriptures for its own sake, not because somebody might notice I don't have my blanks filled in. I have lately only touched base with my Bible in passing glances, and it shows.

When I think about how neglectful I've been of study, I constantly remember a story I heard at a writer's conference a few years back. The speaker at the conference talked about the home churches meeting in rural China, where they may only have a single page of the Bible, a page that they pass from family to family, and when it's your family's turn to have the page, how everyone cherishes it, pores over it, and memorizes it, squeezing every ounce of wisdom they can from the words. We have enough Bibles around our house to distinguish between the "cheap paperbacks" that we don't even really worry about if our kids leave them somewhere, and the better, leather-bound versions we don't let them take places, mostly because we don't want to have to shell out the $70 to replace them. And yet, with a Bible within fifteen paces of any place I could be in my house, or if some bizarre set of circumstances emerged that every one of those Bibles simultaneously got left on a shelf outside a Sunday school classroom, within a ten minute drive to purchase a new one, I don't pick one up with regularity. It's worse than a shame. I am ashamed.

My solution to my neglect of reading has been to listen to an audio version of the "Bible in a year" that I can flip on when I get in my car in the morning. I'm surprised how well this has gone for me for the few days that I've been trying it, because I am not really an auditory learner. But still, even familiar passages are presenting new nuggets that I've somehow missed in many readings of the same text.

And so, it's my hope, just like the way plaster does when you add water, that the application of more scripture to my daily routine will create a reaction that warms. In this case, warms my spirit, my interactions with others, and stokes to flame a consuming hunger for the Word of God--something that has been absent from my life for longer than I care to admit. And just like that liquid plaster, made useful by the introduction of water, I pray that I will become more useful, more mold-able, and eventually spiritually solid. May my commitment to keeping scripture in my daily life take what could be just dry dust and make it something capable of comprising a masterpiece.