When to George Lucas Your Shit
Thoughts on Indie Writing
Being an indie writer I have one unique advantage over traditionally published authors: I can update, change and possibly endlessly fuck with my books as I see fit. This has become enormously helpful for my debut novel Nefarious Twit which I self-published through my own little press Branch Hands Books a few years back. The first edition of the book which took me six years of off and on again work had only one editorial pass from a fellow writer before it saw print and that was less of a line edit and more of a content biopsy to help me see if I had something that was gonna live or not.
And after receiving these notes, (thank you) cursing them to the four winds, (sincerely, thank you) I went back and produced two more drafts that were somewhat radically different from what my makeshift editor saw and that was the book I finally published.
This is a longwinded way of saying my book was published with an embarrassing amount of typos and whatnot. Actually, it had less than a few other books with similar births that I’ve read but every time I combed over it again and still caught one mistake, or worse, someone else brought one up to me online or in a review it wrecked me.
So luckily, I was in a position to fix these flubs.
And eventually I got a real editor to look at the book and paid him for a line edit which produced the current edition of Nefarious Twit crawling around the internet as we speak.
Fine and damn dandy.
But the edition that he edited is not the version you’ll read now if you buy the book; hell the version you buy now might be the version you’ll buy in another six months. Though I hope to god it will.
Every now and then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and straight up hate part or all of this novel. Other times I’m very happy with the entire book. But those other nights I’ll grab it off the shelf and reread a passage of piece of dialogue or even a major plot point or entire character arc and just go...”What the fuck was I thinking?”
And sometimes, on the little stuff, the strange word choice here and there, the line of dialogue I thought was so clever when I wrote it as a younger, skinnier and more reckless tenderhoof writer; I’ll look at all these little eyesores and decide to nuke them from orbit. Only way to be sure, right? Well, except for any of the under ten thousand or so that have purchased or read my book. Thanks by the way, it seriously makes me feel good that anyone reads what I’ve written. Even if you didn’t much care for it, thanks for giving it a whirl.
So far, I have avoided changing anything so big that would render the work so different that it’d be unrecognizable to someone who read it before. The changes I’ve made might not even be noticeable to anyone who’s read it twice. But there are small tonally differences that I find important enough to tinker with so I try to fix them up as I see fit. I think of a storyteller as someone who tries to curate a particular experience for their audience. That means that while I don’t tell you exactly how to feel or think about something I’ve written I do try to provide the right collection of pieces that will unify together into something that elicits a hoped for effect while still including room for unplanned and individual interpretation and reaction.
Basically, I try to be precise in my work until it’s time not to be. I want you to feel however you want about a work but I also don’t want to unwittingly say something I don’t mean by way of being clumsy or just altogether shitty with my writing.
That I want to fix if I find it.
Which brings us to the George Lucas Question:
When does tweaking becoming tampering?
When does an artist’s intentions and authority over their own work have to cede to an audience’s interpretations and expectations?
Does it have to at all?
Do you (an audience member) want to see what the artist deems their best work or only what they deem the mostly likely that you’ll enjoy?
The good news is that I’m an indie writer: No one give two shits what I do.
Seriously, get over it, McMillen and get that it’s kind of great in a way. Liberating at the very least. But my point with Old George there is no one is going to start a petition for me to rerelease the original recipe version of Nefarious Twit replete with the typos, the original shitty dialogue and the untouched description of every bump on protagonist Rick Lime’s little crooked root.
Actually, that wasn’t part of the book at any point but I gotta admit, calling a penis a crooked root does have a certain flair to it. Maybe I’ll include it in the next book, see if it survives past draft 1. (It won’t.)
There’s plenty I’d change in Nefarious Twit now two, almost three years later. I’m sure they’ll be even more I’d want to change in ten or twenty years. Mostly it’s just a matter of tastes changing over time. What I would do before might not necessary be what I’d do with the story now.
But I’m going to try to resist making any big sweeping changes unless I think that they’ll absolutely enhance the book or that leaving it the old way no longer represents me as an artist whatsoever. Which is tricky, because each work is really a document of where that artist was at that certain point. Yes, no art is ever really “finished” but a finished work basically shows where they were at a given point in their own history. So instead of messing with some old stuff why not write the next one differently?
I try to improve at what I do, so yeah, I think I could make a better version of Nefarious Twit now but it wouldn’t be the novel that I published 3 years ago, the same one that I started 6 years before that. It’d be something else. Which hey, if I got a big publishing deal and they wanted to rerelease the book in a different form I’d consider changing it up. How drastically? Well, that’d be a series of long discussions mostly with myself.
It’s a young man’s book, even if it pokes fun at the angry young man sort of novel, it does so lovingly as well as viciously; because it’s still just that. The book is raw. It’s Nirvana’s Bleach, not Nevermind. Hopefully I’ll get to release that one soon...
End of the day, all those garbage changes that George Lucas made to Star Wars; every single one of them, he believed in them. At some level he believed they’d make a better movie. Something truer to his original vision or his newly adopted vision. Which is valid. We live in the now.
But it ain’t Star Wars.
Not the one we all grew up on.
Or the one that George Lucas originally made.
Nobody, even George can ever make that work of art again.