Steve Martin and I have one thing in common – we’ve both killed books.

I don’t put myself in the same category as Steve Martin. He’s a great comedian, actor, and  accomplished writer.

I’m a highly unsuccessful Indie writer and Steve Marin…well, what can you say, he’s written over forty novels and numerous screenplays. My favorite of his novels is Shop Girl and L.A.Story. There are some who love his campy, The Jerk, I admit I’m one of them.

The one fascinating thing I learned about Steve Martin in an interview he gave was how many times he dropped a book that wasn’t working. Now wait a minute. How is that possible? Isn’t every book idea we have incredible?

Well, apparently not. Steve Martin recognized it, and over the years, I’ve come to the same conclusion. When I first heard him say he dropped book ideas, I was amazed. Then I heard the phrase, “kill your darlings,” which is highly used by writers, and I got the message.

I have written and published four books. I have two sitting in a drawer gathering dust that will never see the light of day. What happened to them? They didn’t make it beyond my beta readers.

A Beta Reader should be an author’s first sounding board.

My wife is my first beta reader. If she likes it, I run the book down to the hill to one of my friends who is a quick and voracious reader. If it makes it past him, then it’s time to make numerous copies and have those read by several more readers.

I always wait for feedback to see what my readers think, then I go from there. Why would I do that you ask? Why not just go with my own intuition, my own gut feeling, and critics be damned, just publish it?

Well, that perhaps is why we are ending up with so many Indie titles that are not getting read and are having no sales. Someone has to read what you wrote to give feedback.

Writers need beta readers for feedback like Chef’s need tasters.

Have you seen the television shows where the budding Chef prepares a dish and one of the judges proclaims, “This is awful, did you taste this as you prepared it?”

That’s when the camera pans in on the poor Chef whose shoulders are now scrunched up to his or her ears, the sweat pouring off their brow and they mutter a “no, I didn’t taste it.”

The music sounds a death knell and we see the frown of the judges turn to shaking of heads with the commentator pronouncing the early exit of the Chef.

The difference between the writer who doesn’t get a readers feedback and a chef who doesn’t taste their own dishes and get other’s to taste them is the same. Readers give feedback, the same why a Chef’s taste buds tell him or her if the dish is palatable.

Feedback gives us clarity and direction.

If a plane leaves London, heading for Chicago and the plane is just one degree off course, the plane will  miss  Chicago by hundreds of kilometers.

Imagine that. One degree. Isn’t that the same when we read a book that doesn’t end well. Somehow the book went off course. The writer lost his or her way.

Those are the very books that need to be either dropped or revamped. Somehow, however, we writers feel we have so much invested in an idea, that we have to finish it. I’m all for finishing a book. Sometimes I just want to see where it leads.

But do I publish all of them? No, some of them I just write to see where the story goes. I’ve done the same with short stories. I write them, some of them I send off to magazines or newspapers and see if they get any attention.

Some of my short stories sit here, and then over time get sent out. I call that my aging process. Like fine wine. I had one that rested for fifteen years. Then one day I found a magazine for it and it got published.

What I’m saying is, some writing has to die for the eventual sake of our art. We need to try all the time, but not everything should get published. Especially in the realms of Indie writing, where, somehow authors think everything they write should see print.

I think if we all take a moment, let the writing rest, let a group of our best friends and critics see it, and then decide. And if we do kill our darlings’, we’ll do it softly and quietly then move on to the next project.

I wish all readers happy reading, and writers many hours of happy writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

lylenicholson

Lyle Nicholson is the author of four novels, two novellas and a short story, as well as several articles published in Canadian Magazines and Newspapers. His path to his writing was first as a terrible actor in a Johnny Cash movie, called Gospel Road. He played Andrew the Apostle and apologizes to all who see him in the movie.
He was also a disobedient monk for several years and left the monastery to work at several jobs he’d was highly unsuccessful at until he started his own sales agency, where he finally had success. This was to the delight of his wife and his mother.
He retired in 2011 and took up writing full time. He now lives with his lovely wife in Kelowna, where he writes, cooks and indulges in fine wines.