My favorite author has changed over time. So whenever someone asks me that inevitable question – as if an author can only have one favorite – it may actually be whomever I am reading at the moment. However, knowing that won’t work for the sake of an interview or even a general query from a reader, here is what I usually say.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr was my favorite author through high school and college, though as my interests broadened I became interested in Douglas Adams for some of the same reasons I liked Vonnegut’s novels, but I also tended toward more intense themes and complex plots from writers like Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K Le Guin, Frank Herbert and Robert A. Heinlein.
There are dozens of authors whose work I have followed over the years and many new writers I’m watching. Hopefully someone is observing my development as well.
Another question is: when did you decide to be a writer? I’m not sure there was an exact moment because I believe you are born with the gene and over the course of childhood you discover the inclination for storytelling. I think I always wanted to tell stories to people but it took some time to hone the skills to the point that I was better at it that the average person. From then on it became a matter of learning everything I could about the art of writing in such a way that others would want to spend their money buying a book and their time reading it. For me, I became aware of the process around age 13. Mainly I was pissed off when my 9th grade English teacher wrote a note on a writing assignment that I took as a personal challenge. She said, “You’ll never be a writer.”
When do you know a book is ready to be published? I get that one every once in a while from aspiring writers. By the way, just because you have something published doesn’t mean you’re not still aspiring. A writer who is not still honing his or her craft has either lost the creative connection or has passed away. Writing is a lifelong adventure. Having said all that, I don’t know if there is a point that you as a writer know a book is ready to be published. There is a moment when you are satisfied that it is a good as it will get for the time being. You can overdo things, you know?
I think after the first dozen revisions, a book is probably good enough for others to read. That is not to say it is ready to be published. I think a lot of inexperienced writers are too eager to be published. He or she may arrive at the point of the latest book being as good as it will get for a while and mistake that for being ready to publish. Unfortunately, modern technology has permitted every writer to become published and all too often self published books are not ready for prime time. Whether the issue is substantive errors or lack of professional editing many a good story is not being enjoyed because it did not go through the complete process.
Steph Post, author of the recently released A Tree Born Crooked, said in an interview that her manuscript went through a hundred revisions prior to publication. I have no trouble believing that. Recalling the editing process for Fried Windows, a hundred revisions may actually be a little on the conservative side. Also there isn’t a magic number or a moment or revelation when the author is completely confident that a book is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect book outside of marketing hyperbole. Every book, no matter who the writer is or how many best sellers he or she has published or the accolades received, has some mistakes in it.
Post also pointed out that you need to really love your manuscript because you will be reading it over and over again. So, it appears that the first real test for whether a a piece of writing deserves to be a book is if the author can read it that many times and still enjoy it. There is some magic on the pages after fall the nit picking if, as the author, you can read through the book you have revised countless times and progress from cover to cover without wanting to change a single word.
There are moments in the process of writing a manuscript that you gain confidence in a story. That may come as a chill that passes through your body or a general sense that you’re connected to the creative flow of the universe – depending on your mental state, the time of day and whether you have been drinking coffee or wine. If several days later you revisit what you wrote and read it sober and it still gives you the chill, you may be onto something. Don’t get me wrong. I am not condoning writing under the influence. I have done some of that in the past but I have not written anything in the past three years that was not composed while sober. Also, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I have found that my writer improved greatly. The need to go back and correct errors diminished significantly and, guess what, my mind actually comes up with a lot of strange things all by itself without any artificial stimulation.
I believe writers as a lot are obsessive, compulsive people and therefore we are prone to addictions born of comfortable habits. We may need to have a couple of beers to take the edge off of things and allow us to slip more comfortably into the alpha state that creativity requires. There are other ways to accomplish the same results, though. Oddly enough, exercising – taking the dog for a long walk, riding a bike or jogging – yields greater mental focus and connection with creativity. Listening to music also works for most people. So, even though I fell into a rut for a time and felt I needed to drink a few beers in order to be creative I have since learned there are many other ways of accomplishing the same thing.
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