Revisiting Your Own Work

By | Wednesday, January 22, 2020 4 comments
Bloomsbury Comics Series: Webcomics cover
Last week, I got the first proof of my webcomics book back from the publisher. I'm going through it to make sure images are placed properly, to address a handful of questions of clarity they were wondering about, and to catch any typos or other errors. It's the first time I've re-read any of this since I first submitted the manuscript back in September, and the very first time I've actually read all of it in order as a single document.

Obviously, since I wrote all of it myself in the first place, none of the basic information is new or surprising to me. But what I'm finding is that, after having stepped away from it for several months now, the specific language and the precise word flow feels new. I remember the basic arguments I put down, but not exactly how I presented each of them. It's interesting to me largely because I've never done that before in quite that context. Typically when I'm writing, it's against short or compressed deadlines, so I have my head in it very deeply for however long it takes me to physically write it and it then goes off to get published in fairly short order. I don't generally have the luxury of stepping away from a work for any length of time to return to with fresh eyes.

I should clarify that, though. I don't have the luxury of stepping away from a work while I still have time to modify it. There have been plenty of instances where I come across a piece of my writing I did years earlier, and I simply don't recall writing it at all. I've even thought on occasion to try to look up a subject or detail online -- some bit of esoteric comics trivia that I'd be curious to learn about -- only to find the first Google result is something I wrote! Apparently, I had already researched the topic, wrote about it, and completely forgot whatever it was. Typically, that only happens when what I'm looking for is so obscure a topic that literally no one else has written anything about it. In those cases, I can read what I had written previously and see that with fresh eyes; however, since those pieces have already been published, I'm only looking at the information and not the facets of the writing itself since I can no longer change those anyway.

But with just a few months removed from the work, and still in a state of pre-publication, I find it's been long enough that I still remember the broad strokes but how exactly I put them all together are hazy. And this has allowed me to fine tune the language in a way I normally wouldn't. "Oh, this could be clarified more if I added this clause." Or "I already used that same adverb on the previous page -- maybe I can find a synonym." Or "These two paragraphs don't flow together as well as they might; maybe I can bridge them more smoothly." This kind of revision, in theory, will lead to a stronger overall finished piece.

Which is obviously my goal here.

See, I'm personally terrified about this book's publication. In the first place, it's the longest work I've ever written by a couple orders of magnitude. (I don't have a final page count yet, but I think it'll be about the same length as the second Harry Potter novel.) In the second place, there's a fair chance it'll actually be seen by people. I've never had a huge readership in any of the venues I've written for, so it never really mattered all that much. (I've sold so few copies of my 2011 book that I think I'm technically still in the red on it, despite my only real expense being commissioning some cover art.) But since this is coming from a name publisher, it's likely going to be seen by more people than any other single piece I've written. There's a distinctly larger chance, just statistically speaking, that someone will point out some major flaws that make me look like an idiot for missing.

Because the other aspect to this, too, is that there is literally nothing else like this book on the market. There have been a whopping six books ever published about webcomics -- five of them are how-to style books for creators, four of them have been out of print since 2008. Nothing to this length and depth has been published to date -- certainly nothing that would even remotely be considered an academic work. I think that's going to draw some additional attention and, more precisely, attention from people I know and whose opinion I actually care about. Comics academia, who are going to look at this even more critically than your typical reader.

So I'm really getting to appreciate the chance to really sit down with this on multiple occasions over a period of months to try to make it the best piece possible. So far, in my re-reading this past week, I don't think I've come across anything that will outright embarrass me. Whether or not it deserves or gets a better reception than that, I don't know, but I'm certainly going to try to take this experience to build in more time in future projects where I can step away from it for a bit in order to come back with some fresh eyes. This has been really useful, and I highly recommend it if it's at all possible.
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Matthew E said...

Isaac Asimov told the story once where an author friend of his called him up and asked him if he knew anything about bats. He needed the information for a story. Asimov said he'd look around and see what he could find. He checked this one encyclopedia he had and found a good article in it, which he copied and sent to the friend. But Asimov kept reading the article, thinking, this is pretty good material. He was impressed enough that he checked the front of the encyclopedia to see who had written the article. The name he found: Isaac Asimov.

Ha! I've heard similar stories before of comic creators completely forgetting they'd worked on a title or a character. I used to think, "Wow, how do you forget you drew The Avengers?" I kind of get it now.

Matt K said...

"I don't have a final page count yet, but I think it'll be about the same length as the second Harry Potter novel"

omg dude, where do I sign up to make sure I get a copy of this? I had not really absorbed until now that you had something this big, this near publication. I have to check it out.

Yeah, I'll have to admit that word count in my contract was pretty daunting. I had to break it down into 5000-10000 word sections to even wrap my head around it. Even so, I didn't fully start to think I'd be able to get it done until I got to around 70,000 words (a little shy of the length of the first Harry Potter novel).

You should be able to pre-order it from Amazon, B&N, or wherever. It's already hit the solicitation runs and is in the Bloomsbury catalog, so booksellers shouldn't have any trouble finding it. The hardback lists at $100 (ISBN 9781350028180) and the paperback at $32.95 (ISBN 9781350028173).