AN ITALIAN WITH A GERMAN ACCENT:
I didn’t know what to think going into it. Could a European-based businessman really help me with my book?
My dad called him a “renaissance man”. Eager to get my book on track, I agreed. And I ventured to Italy, alone at first, and arranged to meet with this renaissance man at a piazza in Taormina.
The very first thing that struck me when I met my father’s friend and his family was this inescapable feeling of ‘warmth’. That, and the fact that he was an Italian with a German accent. Born in Italy, he had gone to school, and learned English, in Germany, and thus his English had a German accent.
I should mention that this man could speak five separate languages, an impressive enough feat to me, someone who struggled heavily in high school French classes.
The man had read my book in advance of the trip, and he had come prepared. Prior to my arrival I was expecting to do a fair bit of work, I knew the book needed it, but I was also excited to enjoy what Sicily had to offer.
While I definitely did have an amazing trip and experience, I also had my work cut out for me. Every day, after morning pastries and granita, we would slog through my manuscript, page by page. Cataloguing characters and scenes, creating consistent timelines, moving scenes around, giving each character a unique style and feel to their dialogue. We were there for a little over a week, and in that time my novel completely transformed. It went from an incoherent mess, to something that could be read relatively easily from front to back, and that was an accomplishment on its own.
There were times on that trip where I yearned to be home, and times when working on a book seemed like an incredible waste of an opportunity to immerse myself in Taormina and in Sicily. But I came out on the other side of that trip with an infinitely better novel, and I like to think I grew as a person as well.
Great Books Are Edited, Not Written
You may think that the end of that trip is the end of the journey to getting published. But that isn’t the case. That trip came at the end of 2017, and here we are, all these years later.
When I returned from my trip I spent the following 6 months integrating all the suggested changes.
Writing comes relatively easy to me. Editing and re-writing was substantially harder. But eventually, those changes came to fruition – the book had a consistent, flowing story. Finally, I had something I thought was good enough to publish. But again, my own harshest critic, I had reservations. Did I want something good enough? Or did I want something great?
Back to the drawing board.
I searched the internet for aspiring authors like myself… ones wrought with self-doubt about their “finished” manuscripts. Turns out, this is a very common mindset amongst any creators. But the overwhelming advice that circulates amongst online writing groups is that great books are edited, not written. That’s paraphrasing and simplifying the advice quite a bit, but that’s the essence of it. As a writer you have to get the words down, self-doubt can be a paralyzing enough phenomenon so as to keep you from ever finishing anything.
I had accomplished that first step; I had got the basics down. And I had even accomplished the step to follow, I had edited the manuscript so that it made sense. I had smoothed out the roughest edges. Why was I still so doubtful?
And I’ve since learned that there is a line we dance on, a delicate battle between under, or over, polishing a piece of art we’ve created. We’re hesitant to put it out to the world, because its essentially a piece of ourselves. You’re putting a piece of yourself out there for everyone to judge. That’s why we edit.
Some don’t edit enough, and others want the thing to be so damn perfect they never finish editing.
I didn’t want to fall into either of those categories. So, I decided to bring one more set of eyes and ears to the table.
Another family friend, a great reader and writer, agreed to go through the book with me. Side-by-side we sat, and we read every god-damn line of my book. Making notes, brainstorming suggestions, I went through that whole process again. Eventually, we came to a pretty huge realization – the story wasn’t finished. The ending was abrupt, and there was room to deliver a much more satisfying conclusion to the story I was telling.
In the interest of time and ending my rambling, that process took quite some time, but we came out on the other side with a finished book. And for the first time, I was damn proud of it.
When it was finished, I read my book front to back, and I couldn’t put it down. Maybe it was ego, but I like to think that it was because I had finally, after all those years of writing and re-writing, come up with an answer to that nagging question in the back of my mind.
“Is this a story worth telling?”
I think the answer is “yes”.
That takes us, more or less, to today. I think I wrote something worth reading, and I plan to continue on that quest with many books (and hopefully scripts) to come.