Quick-Tip Tuesday: Learning From Inexperience

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David B. Coe/ D.B. JacksonNot so long ago, I posted here about revising my early work. I’m preparing for the re-release of my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle (more on that later) and so have been editing the books: cutting adverbs, strengthening my prose with more forceful verb constructions, and making the writing more concise and direct. You can find the post I wrote about this here. And you can also read Joshua Palmatier’s post from June 28, because he’s been doing much the same thing with his work.

I want to return to the process in this post, because I’m now almost finished editing The Outlanders, the second LonTobyn book. The Outlanders has long been among my favorites of all my books, not because I think it’s the best I’ve written, or even one of the top two or three. It’s not. Rather, I’ve always loved this book because it exceeded my expectations in every way. While writing the first book, Children of Amarid, I knew I wanted to write more in the series, but I didn’t know if I could. I worried that maybe I only had the one book in me. More, my ideas for this second book were ambitious to say the least. The outline I developed for it the summer after I finished book one demanded that I blend two distinct settings — one pastoral, the other futuristic — and braid together two related but vastly different narrative threads into one coherent novel. I feared I couldn’t pull it off.

But I was eager to try. And the resulting sequel improved upon the series opener in all respects.

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)In editing The Outlanders over the past month or so, I’ve been impressed once again by the achievement of the young version of me who first wrote the book. Don’t get me wrong, I found plenty that needed fixing. Too many adverbs — though not as many as in the first volume. Too much passive writing — though again, not like in book one. I cut twenty thousand words from the first volume; this time I cut fourteen thousand. A lot still, but an improvement. More I rediscovered so much as I read — characters I loved, plot points and turns of phrase that made my heart dance, narrative touches that I couldn’t have come up with had I not already struggled through the writing of the first book.

This is still the work of an inexperienced writer. Comparing The Outlanders to the work I’ve done more recently, I still cringe a little at the habits of that younger me. But I also see growth, a writer beginning to master elements of his profession.

And, to my surprise, I see as well things that I need to be reminded of today as I think about where I ought to go next with my career and my craft. I don’t need to use more said-bookisms or adverbs. But I wonder if in editing Children of Amarid I was too dismissive of that writing voice. It might have been unpolished, but it was passionate. Book two might have lacked concision, but it was rich with ambition and vision.

Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)I love the Thieftaker and Jay Fearsson novels. They are the strongest books I’ve written. But I’m ready to dive into deeper waters again, to take on something riskier, bigger, more ambitious — that word again.

Let me put it another way: Editing my older work has shown me how much I’ve grown as an author, but it’s also made me realize that in growing more comfortable with my writing, I’ve perhaps grown too comfortable with my plotting as well. And therein lies a lesson. Read through your old work. Edit it and make it better. Take stock of your improvements in craft, character development, world building, etc. But also look to see if perhaps the passion and aspirations of  a younger you can point you in a new direction.

Finally, I am happy to say that Children of Amarid is now available from online booksellers in ebook format and trade paperback. And the official launch of this Author’s Edit of the original Crawford Award-winning book will take place this coming Friday night at Congregate in High Point, North Carolina (along with launches from John Hartness Gail Martin, and several others). I hope to see many of you there.

Keep writing!

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4 comments to Quick-Tip Tuesday: Learning From Inexperience

  • […] Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post at Magical Words again discusses my revisions of my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle, and what I have learned from that younger version of myself. It’s not just a matter of correcting youthful mistakes; at times, I’m finding that I need to emulate more some of the things I used to do. Sounds interesting, right? Then read the post! You can find it here. […]

  • This is such an important perspective to hear, David. Thank you for sharing. What you say here is true: don’t discount everything about the old version and your younger writing self. Recently I’ve finally started to dive back into something I set aside because while I loved it, I needed a break, and thought I needed to get better at writing. Yes, I did, but while there are definitely things that need fixing, it’s not as bad as I thought.

    Congrats on the release of the new version! Can’t wait to read it.

  • Thanks for the comment, Laura, and for the good wishes as well. This was an important thing for me to realize, and it curbed what I can only call the arrogance of the older (ie. current) me. An important lesson.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for the very interesting post! I have to admit that one of my writing fears (that is totally just not even applicable to me at the point, so I ought to calm down) is the phenomenon I’ve noticed in a couple writers where their first few books are really rich and exciting, but then later on, while their writing becomes really smooth, the stories feel more formulaic and less…memorable? Of course, as a reader, it’s hard to disentangle that impression from the simple fact that *I* was not the same person when I read each of those books either. But as a writer, the sort of exercise you’ve had a chance to do does seem really valuable. Thank you for sharing.