Monday, August 07, 2006

The Final Problem

The other day I received a mail from a reviewer who was reading my e-novel ALIEN BEACH.
She correctly pointed out a scientific error I'd made in the text - confusing a "mass spectrometer" for a tool that measured mass.

Fortunately the book only exists in digital form, so I could fix the error quickly -- and I've already posted the corrected chapter online.

She wanted to share other comments on the novel she was still reading, and I welcomed her to send me a list...

... which she did. I received a list-in-progress of 15 objections. 11 of the criticisms were not related to spelling or grammar -- i.e. she described where the plot and characterization should be improved or changed.

It was my own fault: In my first reply to the reviewer, I had said that a digital novel could be edited "indefinitely" (i.e. without end). Her list made it clear how naive I had been...

ALIEN BEACH, written in 1997, has flaws. In fact I agree with many of the criticisms... and yet I can't make all the proposed changes, because too much time has passed since I first wrote the book. I can no longer muster the energy for such an extensive rewrite. Call me lazy, or human, but there you have it.

I replied to the reviewer that I should instead write an entirely new novel about the same theme: "And knowing now what I didn't know then -- about scientists, technology and people -- it might turn out a better novel than 'Alien Beach'."

This is not an empty promise.
I'd really like to write a new "take" on the same basic plot.

What would you have done, if you looked back on something you had done 9 years ago and found it wanting? If I were George Lucas, I could tinker endlessly with old creations, keep changing them over and over...
The temptation is strong to do that... but bleaaahh, you know? One can only rewrite the same novel so many times and not get sick of it.

I don't want to get stuck in an endless, obsessive process of adjusting the same manuscript -- which is the same thing as never completing a book, every writer's worst fear. You have to let go at some point.
And too much tinkering will also alienate your audience (as shown by the "Han Shot First" controversy in the Star Wars fan community).

Still, it's healthy to receive criticism... and the reviewer showed genuine interest in the novel.

It occurs to me as I write this (writing helps me think), that there's an unresolved tension between
listening to criticism
letting your own vision be overrun by "backseat drivers" (someone will always want to change something).

That a manuscript can be "edited indefintely" only makes the problem worse.
The dilemma "When do I let go?" applies to writers and readers.

When do you let go?

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