There's something surreal about listening to the words you've spent years putting together into something cohesive, something that you hoped, God willing, was even readable. Especially when you're listening to a professional, a voice actor who interprets your words into feelings and real characters and voices. It makes it that much more real - or surreal in my case.
I've been listening to Shannon McManus read LEARNING TO FALL, and I have to admit, I couldn't stop for the first eight chapters. I finally did when I realized I had to meet a client in thirty minutes all the way across town (mind you our town is small but I still hadn't gotten out of my 'home office' attire.)
There is a part of me that's quite impressed that the story actually works :) As I listen, I am struck at the emotions that pour over me. I laugh, I cry, I feel the tension. I remember where I wrote a scene: a particular table at a coffee shop; the business office of the athletic club we belonged to; the front deck of our ranch house; or in the car as I waited for the kids in the school car pickup lineup. Sometimes I hear a scene and smile because I know exact sentences changed thanks to a beta reader who's note said: "What? I don't get that??" or when an editor wrote: "Yes. But how does that make her FEEL?" The other thing that struck me are the scenes that are missing. By the end of the novel I cut quite a few, and as I listen to Brynn's story I still expect them to be there. Especially Derek's backstory. I have to remind myself that, right... that was a conscious decision. And it was likely thanks to Heather Lazare, my last lovely editor, who would cross out full sections and say, "This is good, but keep it moving. Keep the pace up." The result is a much tighter story.
One of the other things that strike me are places where I weaved things through in the last few drafts. Where I added depth and pulled through threads that had only lived in my mind, but weren't really there on paper for anyone else to see. Those surprise me, and I shake my head when I remember how many drafts it took to get there. Those were the ones that revealed the statue beneath the slab of marble. It was a matter of pounding, chiseling, polishing, but it got there (mostly).
Do I cringe at all? Yes... there are quite a few places where I think. 'Oooh... that's terrible. I could have written that better,' or, 'I could have edited that spot,' or 'Yikes! I used that word three times in the last two paragraphs!' (Slapping my hand over my forehead, wanting to get swallowed up by some big sink hole as I drive.)
I also notice how my writing changed over time. I can hear the difference in the the scenes I first wrote (and they're sprinkled throughout the book) vs. ones I wrote in much later drafts. The style changed. I recognize that I matured as a writer. As I got feedback and went to more classes and read more and wrote more. It's exciting! You know what that means? It's true! Just like any other craft or sport, to improve we need the practice. And instead of fearing writing the next book, we should embrace it because it's likely that we have grown as writers. The next book will be different. That's a given. It will be unique. Maybe it will be a little crooked here and a little less polished there, but hopefully it will find its own readers who love and treasure it and want to read it again and again. Who cares if there will be critics who say it doesn't even deserve one star? The world is full of critics. What we need are artists. Those brave enough to keep creating in spite of criticism. We need to take the feedback that helps us learn, that teaches us, and ignore the rest.
In the end, I'm so grateful that I'm taking the time to listen to LEARNING TO FALL - especially over a year since I last made copy and proofread edits. I've had time away from it. I've had perspective. It's not perfect. I know that. But that's okay. I tried, and in the end, I've achieved my dream: to find some readers that connect with it. Some who even love it. And a handful have even reached out to me to tell me that it's brought them peace, has helped them heal after a loss of a loved one, or has even brought them back to reading after a twenty plus year hiatus. What could be better than that?