A few weekends ago, I spent some time in the mountains, cleaning out the head of our irrigation ditch. (In addition to writing and publishing on the side, I also work on a family farm). Over the course of the summer, a layer of silt about a foot deep formed over the tarp dam of the creek, followed by another layer of red clay, about half an inch thick.
As I watched the backhoe clearing out the sediment along the ditch, I peeled back a handful of clay and started rolling it in my hands. The red-brown clay molded easy under my palms and fingertips, but when I’d removed it from the layer of dark silt beneath it, some of the silt stuck to the clay. Shaping it in my hands, I found the veins of dark silt running through the clay crumbled and refused to mold with the clay. I also found no matter how many times I rolled and pinched and smoothed, I couldn’t make the clay ball into a perfect circle with my mean skill — there was always a lump sticking out somewhere.
No matter how much I caressed the clay and picked out the “flawed” silt from the clay, it would have still been impossible to make a perfect ball of clay. Eventually, I reached a point where all my little tweaks and pokes made no different. It was as good as my skills could make it.
I continued to turn the ball of clay over in my hands and my thoughts drifted to the revision process. In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the revising process with a couple of authors. Although we all did some things a little different, in the end we were all working toward the goal of a shaping a book that’s ready to be enjoyed by readers.
Much like shaping that ball of clay, writing is a process of picking out the flawed parts and turning the words over in your mind and on the page — kneading them with perfection in mind. But eventually, we reach a point where our skills are played out — we can’t make the book any better. Much like a master potter could have made a better circle than me, there are master authors out there who can craft better stories than us. If we keep working at the craft, however, we’ll eventually get to a point where the lumps get smaller, the flawed parts are picked out and we’ve got something special in our hands.
This can only happen if we keep pressing onward. As important as continual improvement is, you’ve also go to realize when a book is as good as it’s going to get. When you reach that point, it’s time to get it out there and start another, remembering everything you just learned and applying it to the new work. Keep on molding.
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.