Once a month I appear on this blog, so I have about four weeks to think of what I want to say. Most of the time I have no problem coming up with an opinion on anything, but shaking loose an idea I want to explore and spend time with that will benefit other writers, even if it’s short, is harder.
My first idea usually gets shelved. This month I considered writing about Beta readers because two experiences from my earlier years came to mind. A friend who wasn’t someone I considered a book person asked about what I was working on. He asked to read it when it was ready. When I had a pretty good draft (perhaps fourth or fifth), I gave it to him. He gave me lots of notes and conversation, and a year later I reworked the story. He again asked about it, so I showed it to him. This time he didn’t like it at all even though it was essentially the same book. He took exception to things he liked the first time around and passed over things that excited him before. Okay. I don’t know what this means except that he changed in the interval, and first impressions are more useful than second impressions. I shelved that blog.
Than I moved on to the idea of reviewing. This is tricky for a writer reviewing in her genre, so after reviewing numerous titles in the 1980s and 1990s for all sorts of journals–The Drood Review of Mystery, Mystery Scene, and Publishers Weekly among them, and later Audible–I gave it up for the simple reason that it became too awkward. After attending a few conferences, including Malice Domestic and Bouchercon, as well as Crime Bake later, I knew too many writers whose books I loved as a reader but could see flaws in as a reviewer. Awkward for sure. End of that topic.
The pandemic is still with us but I’ve already posted about it twice and I’m sick of it. You may be too. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. How is it affecting my work? Hard to say, though I expect we’ll all discover in a year or two that we were in a fog for almost a year and we’ll look back on these months with their fears and restrictions and wonder why we did the things we did. It will be, yes, awkward. Enough of that topic.
And then we come to words. I love words. Nothing new there. I also love my dictionary (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, second college edition, printed on lovely onion skin paper), which comes with etymologies. The “Guide to the Dictionary” is a six-page explanation of the construction of the entry, all those little bits we lump together as the definition. My favorite line in this guide is “In no case is the first spelling considered ‘more correct’ or the one necessarily to be preferred.” There are also several pages on language, including English, and more on Americanisms. I’m enjoying myself but I’m not sure another reader would be. Time for another topic.
Editing is always a reliable subject because, Lordy knows, we writers do enough of it and we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient. I’d love to be able to write and construct a story well enough not to have to all but rewrite the damn thing during the editing process. I think of the standard advice, When in doubt, throw it out. The trouble with that advice is that it calls to mind a note on an article I sent to a publisher. It “didn’t fit” their journal so they sent it back, but in the notes a reader and editor left was the comment, “This is an excellent sentence.” I found the passage and read it. It read like all my other sentences. What was so special about this one? After turning to it every year or so, I still don’t know. It just looks like all the other passages in that article (still unpublished), so I seem to have not only no advice on editing but also no sense of what to edit. End of topic.
So here I sit at 7:30 on Saturday morning without a topic for my blog post. You’ll just have to tolerate my ineptness today, and I hope to do better next month. Yes, I know, it’s awkward.