A week ago I thought it was a good idea to ask authors for excerpts of their earliest writing in its original and unedited form. A week ago I thought I’d be sifting through submissions. Clearly, that didn’t happen. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, but it seems obvious to me now that no one enjoys exposing their flaws. You see, I thought it would be fun, looking back at old manuscripts and pointing out the mistakes we would never make again. But again, no one wants to do that.
The reason is obvious and I know I’m not the first person to say this: as writers we’re constantly running away from our earliest attempts at fiction. There’s no point in dwelling on those early attempts because we’ve already learned from them.
I did, however, receive one e-mail. Yes, that’s right. I received one whole submission. It’s from a writer working on her first novel. Here’s the message she sent me describing her excerpt: “The main issue I see with this excerpt is telling not showing. The narrator also has an inner voice sounding between 12 and 14, when she was supposed to be 16. Since doing revisions from this draft I’ve learnt much about showing emotions through actions and facial expressions, and the novel has developed to be a YA/New Adult (not quite sure yet) with an inner voice between 18 and 21.”
And here’s a paragraph from the excerpt: “I was too busy watching Lei, interpreting his expression that I only just heard Harley’s sigh of relief. Whatever that meant, sometimes it really sucked caring for people. I just couldn’t let him believe I wanted to kiss him. Or that I liked him. It’s best to be true my feelings even if that means Lei’s aren’t spared.” You’ll notice that she hit the nail right on the head. We all made these mistakes in our first books. I’m particularly touched by the phrase “interpreting his expression.” I always used to have characters interpreting or analyzing expressions. I also liked “it really sucked caring for people.” Yep, 12 year old girl. But none of this matters because we already know this. Jo Carter, the author that sent me the excerpt, she already knows this and that excerpt we all just read has already been edited. I mean seriously, none of this benefits anyone. There’s nothing to even say about it. She’s already fixed it.
But I shouldn’t despair at bad ideas. It’s better to move on and all that. Halfway through the week I received a message from a fellow author that said this: “How about first attempt vs edited attempt – same scene. That would be cool to see,” suggesting that I should’ve taken excerpts that show a before-and-after, a look at the decisions an author made in the editing process. And he’s right, that seems much more productive. So, learning from my mistake last week, allow me a second attempt. Please, if you are reading this and wouldn’t mind sending me a short excerpt of your writing, both before and after the editing process, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like to send an unedited excerpt and would like a semi-professional critique either public or private, send that along. Yes, I just offered a free critique. And like always, I’m responding to everyone. And hopefully this second attempt will prove more productive. Thanks, and have a good day.