I will be releasing a new short story at the end of the month and it reminded me of a blog post I meant to write a long time ago. If you have been following my blog recently you will know that I am trying to write a novel this year, my first, but I also want to self publish a short story every month too as over the last few years I have produced many drafts but not got around to finishing them. As with all things in life, time seems to disappear and I have not kept up to the schedule I originally aimed for three years ago when I set up my company.
When I now look at the last short story I self published my eyebrows rise up to the top of my head as I see it was in early 2012…
I am not saying I am a good writer now, you must be sick of me saying in practically every post I make how I am an amateur learning the ropes, but in three years you would hope I have improved somewhat and as those first stories were a tiny bit rushed (I really wanted to not give myself any excuses by delaying setting up the company so I didn’t revise the works as much as I should have - although I am very happy that I got them online because it did indeed give me the impetus I needed to get going) I initially thought that one day I will re-visit them and rewrite them. I have changed my mind. I am not going to do that, I am perfectly happy to leave them as they are, error filled as they may be in many different ways – although I will update the ebooks as digital files to include the latest links, information and formats to make sure they look and work as part of the company’s range of ebooks, just not the content of the story itself – and I thought I would share with you why.
Allow me to interrupt myself first because there is an important factor in this decision that you should know my thoughts on before continuing. It concerns reviews.
Because I have been honest from the start and never claimed to be the next new sensation or the greatest undiscovered writer of our generation I have never felt guilty about the conflict of selling amateur goods. That is not to say they are faulty goods! Let me attempt an explanation by way of an example:
There is a show in the UK called Strictly Come Dancing and it’s syndicated all over the world under various names so you may know it. It is the program where celebrities are teamed up with professional dancers and learn different dances every week and perform them live on television. It is a competition, so they are judged and the public has a vote on who they want to keep. The two couples with the least votes then have a ‘dance off’ where they perform their routine again and the judges then decide who they want to keep on the show and the other couple are kicked off with great emotion, tears and gushing platitudes. I make no bones about it… I’m addicted… but that is beside the point, my reality TV viewing habits aside what I wanted to draw a comparison to is how the judges mark the celebrities. On week one we all know they are going to be terrible. There are always a few exceptions, one or two couples usually stand out as having some natural talent and look pretty damn good for just a few weeks training and then… well, then there are those that look like they never learned how to put one foot in front of the other. What is interesting though is that as an audience we never expect them to be fantastic immediately, we are very tolerant of people messing up (and it makes great TV come on) and in a way value those who are struggling because we enjoy seeing progress and people work their way up. It’s an entertainment show after all so we want to see them grow (and fail) and develop (and fail) as we feel part of the journey with them.
You can probably see where I am going with this. In the early weeks of the show the judges mark with mercy. They are not judging as they would competitively in the real world. Hence at week one they judge differently to week ten. And that is the link I want to make. If a celebrity waltzed out there on the first show claiming to be the new prima ballerina then you can bet they would be judged harshly because they are attempting what they cannot possibly reach. In week one however, it is possible (although unlikely, granted) for someone to get a ten out of ten because they reached the target that was set for them, it won’t be the same target set for the following week, nor the week after and similar performances would see that ten drop fast. In order to keep the ten they need to work harder and perform better every week… more complicated and difficult routines, an arabesque there, a fouette here… ahem, sorry, getting carried away. The point is, in week nine say, a score of ten is worth so much more than a week one score of ten.
Right, how well did I do there with my twisted parallel? What I am trying to say is that a five out of five star review for my first short story doesn’t not mean a ‘real’ five out of five review against a professional writer. People should understand that. It is marked against what they know I am… but also what I hope to be AND marked against what I am saying about myself. If I dare say I am prima ballerina and then fall flat on my face the second I step out on stage then too right I should be pounced upon... but I'm not.
I understand the argument that by simply allowing your work to be bought, that immediately places you in the ‘professional’ category, not because you are saying you are but because you are doing what a professional does, sell your work for money. I have sympathy for that way of thinking and it was a concern of mine for a long while. However, the market has changed, the independent ebook (and print as well now) category has to a degree established itself and there is now a clear distinction to be made between published and self published works should you chose to take the time out and investigate the publisher and author name. I accept that isn’t the norm for the average customer, fair enough. And in fact, as you probably know, some self publishing authors outstrip published authors in sales and earnings by a long way so they too should be judged by global professional standards. As a reader you have to know a little bit about the author in order to make a balanced review.
If I write a story in ten years time and it is no better than that first story then it won’t deserve a five out of five. It will deserve a one and that is right and correct. So I am happy in my understanding that people who may review my work and perhaps give a five out five star rating are not saying that their five out five is the same as the five out of five they gave the latest Booker/Pulitzer/Nobel prize winner. They are also not saying that the three out of five star rating they gave the latest Stephen King or John Grisham means that they are rubbish books. They are rating it compared to a huge body of work that has already reached stratospheric heights and are being critical because they are indeed the prima ballerinas and are being judged by much harsher standards. There is simply no point in trying to use a five star rating system to encompass all the levels and styles of work out there. It is a broad, easy to the eye summative way of expressing a view. The real rating should be in the critical review you leave which if you are serious about a work (and have the cheek to give Stephen King or John Grisham three stars) should be the place you give a detailed description about why you felt the book deserved the rating you gave it. If you leave just a one liner then why should anyone take it seriously? If we really wanted to leave it just to a stars rating then we would need a scoring system out of one hundred or maybe one thousand. A review criteria checklist that is so nuanced it would never be workable.
When I look back at my early short stories I know I will be humble enough (I hope I already am) to accept those reviews were my first week reviews. I do not let those nice and generous people who took the time out to read my efforts and support someone at the early stages of their struggle convince me I am better than I am. I know where I currently am and a review system won’t suddenly change that. Nor will a bunch of one out of five starts stop me either. As long as I do not lie about my status on my website, my blog or social media platforms and remain honest with my readers and followers I feel justified in putting myself out there.
Now, getting back to the first point. What I won’t be doing in the years to come is re-writing my early stories to bring them up to the level I will hopefully be at. Here is why.
Why I won’t re-edit or re-write early works.
The way I feel at the moment is you have to keep pushing forward in life. It is all too easy to think of the past, or to dwell on the past and I have suffered from that enough. I have too much to work on to spend time on things from the past. I know they could be improved, there is no doubt of that, but they represent where I was at that point in my life, my skill and ability at that moment and I do not want to change that retrospectively. It maybe unfair to people who at some point in the future may see these works and be disappointed but to me it feels like cheating. If I keep working and cross-fingers keep improving then every story I produce from now on will represent a different person, me at a different stage in my life. I hope to be writing for a long time because I know that the only way to improve is over a long time. If I spend my time now on rewriting and rewriting and rewriting I will never get through the huge number of drafts I have and produce new works. That is the way I need to improve, by writing new material and I don't feel like I have the energy, willpower and desire to rewrite old stuff. A lot of people have suggested this to me because they want anyone who comes across my work to think of all it positively but that's just not realistic to me. I have a long way to go and I like the idea that over the years you can see my improvement just as much as I feel it when writing. So, that's my brief explanation of why I am happy to leave my early works alone. Over the course of this year I hope to get many more short stories out and I am sure there will be issues with every single one of them but I am not going to stand still and spend time going over them again in a couple of years time. Next year there will be more stories and the year after that, more stories again... what is done I am not going to change. My improvement will come by writing the next story.
And for no reason other than I have no images to accompany this post and it seemed a waste not to share this footage I took while travelling through Woolwich on the bus...
Don’t forget I am working on a second blog as well now charting the progress of my novel by means of sharing with you the research and notes I take as I travel around parts of London. You can follow it here:
Take care and have a great week,
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