Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On the Reading of Old Books (Which I unfortunately wrote)

I read an old book the other day. Old is a relative term since the book was published this century. However, it qualifies as old to me, since I wrote it long enough ago that I'd forgotten exactly what I'd written. I read my old books from time to time, not all of them, just the ones that catch my eye in moments of boredom. This particular book used to be my favorite. I recommended it to anyone and everyone. "Some of my best work" I used to say. I don't anymore, not after rereading it. Now I am a little embarrassed. The book itself isn't bad. In fact, the overall message is quite good. The problem with the book is that it came out of my "cute" period, a dark time in my writing life when I thought I was far more clever than I could ever be. Little flourishes within the text that I once considered entertaining I now find annoying. My artistic touches get in the way of what I wanted to say. I found them so distracting that I had to close the book and put it back on the shelf. I must assume that I was not alone in this reaction since the book never did very well sales wise. The experience taught me two very important lessons. First, I must never forget the writer's mantra: Write Tight. That is, do not add unnecessary words, no matter how cute and clever they may seem. The second lesson? Always, always, always have a good editor. The editor I trusted, the one I considered a close friend who always told me the truth about the words I put on a page, left the publishing house shortly before I turned in this manuscript. Whoever took over his job, and to this day I have no idea who it was, hardly touched my first draft of this book. I'm not sure they did anything beyond changing a couple of commas into periods. Great editors turn decent enough writers into really good writers. I need more of them in my life.

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