Thursday, 3 March 2016

Did I really write THAT?

Like any artists, writers should improve as they go on, yes?  If we're not constantly learning from those we admire, reading the work of the most brilliant in our field, keeping an open mind about our weaknesses and going over and over our work before we publish to wheedle out the crap bits, then we're doing something wrong.  That's right, isn't it?

But isn't it demoralising when you read something you wrote (and published) a few years back, something you thought was as good as you could make it, and see that it needs some serious attention?  Have you ever done that?


You know that (excellent) advice about putting your manuscript away for a month before you start the redrafts ~ I sometimes wonder if it ought to be two years rather than a month.  When I read the first novels I wrote, over twenty years ago, I cringe, badly, at some bits.  That's okay, they were my first attempts and if I couldn't see their faults I might as well pack it all in and do the housework; happily, I didn't bother to submit them to agents because I suspected they were not good enough, even at the time.  But in the last couple of weeks I've re-read two of my earlier published novels, and did that 'ouch' thing again.  Nobody's Fault, which I wrote in 2011, needs a good edit, I think.  Far too many exclamation marks in dialogue, sentences not succinct enough, long passages that need splitting into paragraphs, a feasibility issue - and that's something I yell about in other books!

I also read What It Takes written in 2013, which is better, but not better enough.  Both books have some very good reviews (after all, there is nobody more critical that the creator of any piece of art), but, now that I review books on a regular basis for Rosie Amber's Review Team, I can see that I would have given Nobody's Fault only 3.5* ~ fairly enjoyable, fairly well written, but needs some work ~ and What It Takes just 4* ~ good, but not memorable.  

(Note Mar 5 ~ it's only 99p for the next few days, if you want to see if you agree with me or the reviewers!!  HERE)


When I read my later books (Kings and Queens, Last Child, Round and Round and The House of York ~ they're all HERE) I feel proud of them ~ I wonder if I'll cringe at parts of them in a few years' time, too?   And perhaps I shouldn't say that I'm critical of my earlier stuff ~ but in these days of so many writers using gushing superlatives from reviews to advertise their work (and I am guilty of that, too), maybe a bit of honesty doesn't go amiss.


I still like Dream On and Full Circle, with only a few reservations, although those were written in 2012.  They're my 'lightest' books and quite a few people name them as their favourites of mine; it's a matter of taste, too, isn't it?  I was reading through the almost-final proof of my yet-to-be-published novella, Best Seller, last week when my sister was here, and read out to her a sentence I thought should have been phrased differently, with my suggested amendment.  She said she couldn't see the difference.


Maybe it's just that all writers have their best novels and their not-so-good ones, as even your favourite band will have the odd album you don't like.  I love Aerosmith but am not so keen on Draw The Line and Rock In A Hard Place.  One of my favourite writers is Douglas Kennedy; The Job, The Pursuit of Happiness and The Big Picture would probably feature in my all time top 100 books.  I also loved Temptation, The Moment and The Dead Heat, but thought Leaving the World and State of the Union dragged on and on; I skip read and might have not even finished.  

Maybe that's all it is, and I shouldn't worry too much.

Some writers never read their own books, as some actors never watch themselves on television.  In reviews, I criticise books for the same mistakes I have made myself ~ which is why, whenever I write advice for debut novelist type posts, I always make clear that I am talking from experience.  I recognise some of those flaws only too well.

In 1990 I discovered the novels of Susan Howatch.  I read what I consider to be her five best ones (The Rich are Different, Sins of the Fathers, Cashelmara, Penmarric and The Wheel of Fortune), but when I tried a couple of novellas she'd written before them, I wasn't so taken with them.  Perhaps if even maestros such as Ms Howatch have work that's less than compelling, it's okay for me to go 'ouch' at my older works, too, and I should stop giving myself a hard time.  That, or re-edit the ones I'm not so keen on.  That would be the best thing to do, I suppose ~ but I'd rather spend the time writing the new.  On the other hand, if someone reads one of the not-so-good ones first, they might well abandon and never try another one by me.  Maybe that's just the way the cookie crumbles, one man's meat, and all that (and yes, I always give cliches a wide berth :).

Do you cringe when you read your old stuff, too?

31 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha, I get this feeling with my blog posts every single time. Yet to publish a book so I am pretty sure this will happen then too. Delightful read!

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    1. Me too, everything I write, even tweets!

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  2. I love reading the articles I wrote years ago as they still seem quite topical today but my first attempts at novel-writing were a disaster. My second novel will be published soon so I'm still a novice but I think the 'cringe' factor is important to all of us to achieve a sense of balance. When I've written as many novels as you, Terry, I'll come back and let you know...

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    1. You're so right - it's all part of the never ending process! Someone just tweeted to me that you also sometimes read bits back and think, gosh, I'm good, too!! :^D

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  3. Hi Terry - my blog posts sometimes horrify me and I see I need to correct them. I'm sure my writing doesn't match up grammatically .. but I write snippets and seem to get away with them.

    Novels and books, or short stories - I guess we all start of 'reasonable' .. and move on up ... as we realise later.

    Cheers and good luck with your books et al - Hilary

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    1. Thank you! With me it's not the errors, because they're fixed by the proofreader (I didn't have one when I first published), but just the lazy, or bad writing. Yes, I think most of us start reasonable and get better - though some start brilliant, and some never get any better than reasonable. One hopes one is not in the latter group! :)

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  4. Oh yes - though on of my daughters has always been hugely (and constructively) critical, and used to scrawl in thick red pen through anything that was truly dreadul (plus comments like, 'if you really want me to understand this you'd write it in decent English!'

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    1. Ha ha! Nothing like family!!! My husband is similar!

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  5. Oh Terry, this is exactly the dilemma I'm fretting over at the moment. I published my first book in 2013 and hope to publish my second sometime this year. Two years down the road, I feel I know my world & characters much better depth than when I started out several years ago & am getting more into my stride with my writing now. There are parts of my first book I know could be better written in terms of info dumping & character development. Not to mention a few too many adverbs somehow managed to slide under my radar, cringe! The few reviews I have are very positive, but I still feel there is room for improvement. If it was a stand alone book I'd be tempted to chalk it up to experience & move on, but it's a trilogy. Readers are more likely to pick up the next one in the series if they love the first, but if they think it's just ok, they might not be willing to invest time/money in the others. It pains me do it, but I've decided to delay the release of my 2nd book until I add new cotent & revise the first, then release both close together, although sadly won't be able to meet the release date I originally planned. I don't have much of a readership yet, so thought if I was going to do it, now is the time. Kicking myself though as it feels like I've taken several steps back. You live & learn, sometimes the hard way! Still, it's good to hear I'm not alone in thinking this about my first book. Great post as always x

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    1. Wendy, I think you're absolutely right to do what you're doing, and I applaud your patience and practical attitude! You're right - with a trilogy the first one HAS to be pretty damn good or readers won't buy the second, whereas if you'd written a stand alone and it was good but not memorable, people still might try another.

      It's why I reiterate something I read ages ago - make sure your debut novel is the one you really want the world to see. Your 'debut' should not necessarily be the first novel you write. I also think that this 'write a trilogy because it keeps 'em coming back for more' advice may not always apply, because with stand alones you have the potential to reach a new audience every time you publish, whereas with trilogies it's harder. From a reader's point of view, I think it's a really good idea to have the second in the series ready to go before you publish the first, to keep the momentum going. I think you're doing absolutely the right thing! x

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    2. Thanks so much for the feedback, Terry :) Glad to hear you think I'm doing the right thing. It can be hard to know which decisions are the right ones when you're self published. I guess sometimes you need to take a step back to see the bigger picture x

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    3. Oh yes ~ and if, before you re-publish, you research promotional opportunities with all the book blogs that do YA fantasy (I see new ones every day, and you can submit to Rosie's review blog, we get loads of YA fantasy on there!), it could be a proud new day for you ~ like having your debut all over again :)

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  6. This rings so true. A few years ago I was an avid reader of Catherine Cookson. After she died the publisher released the frist two novels she'd written and not had published (presumably because they were so badly written.)It was a huge disappointment , and totally unfair to her, I thought. Note to self - destroy all previous rubbish work before I pop off this mortal coil - oops, a cliché.

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    1. Ha ha ha!!! Yes - I dread someone ever finding some of the crap I wrote back in the 1990s! As you say, completely unfair to her, and existing fans are such harsh judges, alas.

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    2. Actually, it's 'shuffle off this mortal coil', but then I am a professional pedant, har har har! I agree, Judith, as I revere Elizabeth Jane Howard to the point of hero worship, but found her Cazalet novels to be - well, just a bit boring and not interesting to read.

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    3. A bit like Ms Howatch post Wheel of Fortune, too! ps, I am sure Judith knows re pop/shuffle. I imagine she was just paraphrasing ;)

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    4. Back home after a few days but I do need to say, Julia, I will NEVER shuffle anywhere - when I have to leave this mortal coil, I will hop, skip & jump , until I am a speck in the distance, sitting up there on a star (and where else would we authors/ proofreaders be but on a star?) watching readers trashing my early attempts at writing and thinking 'Huh! What do they know' - in smug satisfaction that I know it's all subjective and won't give a damn anyway. As, I suspect Catherine Cookson is doing right at this minute. Jx

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  7. Yes, I can see what you mean, Terry, but you're being too hard on yourself. Obviously we all try and improve all the time, but technical stuff, length of paras, too many exclamation marks and so on are all down to judgement, that I think most readers hardly notice. I think they are apt to notice the story and the characters above all else - that's what they'll kick up about. My early books (luckily I never pubbed them) were truly embarrassing and awful. And again, re Douglas Kennedy, the two books you hated most were the ones I liked best, so it just shows everyone's tastes are different.

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    1. A very good illustration of the 'one man's meat' thing!

      I disagree re the the first bit - it's the length of paras, ill advised punctuation, etc is what makes a book readable or not, and is the difference between a professionally produced book and an amateur one. Many readers don't notice (and, indeed, some stuff that is a lot worse written than mine have ever been sell stacks of copies), but I'd like to think I'm writing for the people who CAN tell the difference - because I can, and those sort of things make the difference between me giving a book a good or a mediocre review, or maybe just abandoning it.

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  8. I have been considering the possibilty that all of our previous works should really be re edited one of these days, after all, we are constantly improving and changing, so why not?

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    1. That's what I think, too - and I know some successful self-published authors do just that :)

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  9. At least if you self-pub. you can take things down and have another go.I did that when I self-published Jigsaw Pieces, having got my rights back from OUP. I do think a lot of 'first' novels could do with leaving aside for a bit. Perhaps one should always publish the third one first? Interestingly, Martyn, in his 'new' proof reading role, is finding all sorts of cringeworthy mistakes in the 'wow what a brilliant first novel' he is currently reading (publ by a big mainstream publisher.

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    1. Yes - it was something I read by an author called Tahlia Newland who used to have a site called Awesome Indies. She wrote that your first novel shouldn't necessarily be your debut. I so agree with that; when I wrote my first one I didn't even bother to send it to an agent (it was years ago) because I knew it wasn't good enough. Alas, now there is Kindle, people are in such a rush to 'be a published author' that so many don't consider whether or not their novel is actually good enough to be published. As for Martyn's experience, it doesn't surprise me. I remember when the chick lit boom first started, in the late 90s, Julia and I looking at some books that were published by some mainstream houses, and couldn't believe it. Utter bilge. Still, so much is about who you know, is it not?!

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  10. Oh goodness, I recognise this feeling so well! I have often thought that I should publish second editions of my all books with 'new and improved' in bold on the covers. Every time I read my books I want to edit them again. Awful. What I also find is that I read sentences differently on different days and that can drive me nuts when I'm trying to fine tune things. I'll change sentences one day and revert to the previous form the next. After two years, I'm likely to re-write the whole book! Good one TT xx

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    1. Val, what can I say except I agree with all YOU say!!! It's like the one I read out to JUlia from the new book - I told her what it should have been and she said "I can't see the difference". I thought one was WAY more clumsy than the other, but she ... didn't see it :)

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  11. Hi, I found your blog today on the #Sundyblogshare on Twitter. I'm in the process of writing what I believe will be a memoir. I did some writing as a child, after reading books I liked. I kind of slacked off for some time but haven't completely lost interest.
    Read on my blog starting in January for more details:
    http://jannghi.blogspot.com/

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  12. Love this post, Terry, and you're definitely not alone in this feeling! I guess if we weren't hard on ourselves we wouldn't develop as writers, but ultimately the story is the important thing.

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    1. Aye, it is, Kat, but if it's not very well written nobody will want to read another one!!! Thanks for reading - and I suspected I would not be alone in this! :)

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  13. Well obviously I know what you mean as I feel the same about ASS already but I guess this is what progression is all about. I did read something recently about some writers trying to get they're earlier stuff withdrawn. I think the main thing is that we see improvement from our earlier work, if we didn't well, what would that say?

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    1. Precisely :)
      I've considered taking a couple of the older ones down - but then I kinda like having 12 books published, and the older ones do still sell and even get the odd new review. I think the thing to remember is what I said about even your favourite writers doing stuff you don't like so much - ref Julia's comment, above, about Elizabeth jane Howard.

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