I smile to see that, when I decided that the first thing I needed to do to get my manuscript – the Bold Ship Phenomenal – ready for publication was give it a structural edit, I allowed myself two weeks to complete the task.
How long has it taken me? Three months.
This is not the first structural edit mind you. In fact, it is probably closer to the twentieth. Yet when I decided to self-publish, it still seemed essential that I do yet another. The reason, I have realised, is the greater burden – to act as both creator and gatekeeper – that rests on the self-published author.
In a traditional publishing model, you (the author) create something and the publisher says ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’. They are the gatekeeper; the arbiter of quality, freshness, appeal, and of being ‘good enough’. As self-publisher you must fulfil this role yourself. It is your work after all and you must stand by it (hopefully with pride) once it takes its place in the world.
Yet, it is a curious concept this ‘good enough’. One of the pitfalls of the traditional model is that good enough can lead to a lack of ambition and sameness in what is being publishing. Conversely, one of the wonders of the new indie publishing scene is the freedom it affords authors to produce and make publically available new and strangely beautiful and unsettling works.
Yet as any good editor will tell you, it is difficult (some would say impossible) for a writer to gain sufficient distance from their work to see what needs to be done to bring it onto its finest form.
Hence the delay. Rather than being a straightforward matter of shifting bits around, my structural edit has been an angst process of asking ‘Is this right?’, ‘Could this be better?’, ‘Will this appeal to readers in the way I intend, or is the appeal limited to me?’. In short: ‘Is this good enough?’
I have been cheered in this process by Austin Kleon, whose small books (Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work) I stumbled upon mid-way through. Austin takes a pragmatic and enabling approach to the creative process, urging people to trust in the value of their creativity and put its products out there. (You can listen to his manifesto on stealing like an artist here.)Of particular value was his insight (in Show Your Work) that “you don’t have to be a genius”. Everyone, he argues, has something to contribute, and it is OK to “be an amateur”.
“Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid,” he says (Workman Publishing, New York, p.15).
So it is with The Bold Ship Phenomenal. I do love this story. It carries part of me in it. So I must act like an amateur and be willing to put it out there and potentially look ridiculous in public, while at the same time doing everything in my power to make it ‘good enough’. I owe it – I feel – to the story and to the readers who will (again hopefully) one day share it.