My Pre-publication Mosquito Plague

My Pre-publication Mosquito Plague

I’ve reached what most authors consider an enviable moment; my book has been written, rewritten, rewritten, rewritten, edited, proofread, proofread again, edited again, formatted, designed, and it has a beautiful, professionally designed cover with all of the proper, edited, re-edited information on it. I’ve written the front matter, the back matter, the cover copy, the bio, and the bibliography. I’ve created a tip sheet, an author bio, and a marketing plan. I’m done! It’s all been okayed by my publisher and the book is going to print in a matter of days…or hours…or even minutes.

            I should feel elated, right? I’ve done it all. It’s full steam ahead to launch day, right? 

           While I am excited to be at a certain kind of finish line with this project, it’s not only excitement that I feel.  I’m also suffering a condition not uncommon in this phase of publishing. I call it the mosquito phase.

            As I brushed my teeth this morning, knowing full well that the pages I've created might be rolling off of a printer as I brush, a perfectly brilliant idea came to me. Then another. These are two of about a thousand “perfectly brilliant” ideas I’ve had in the last week about things that should be in my book, but aren’t: A great example. A turn of phrase. A resource. A metaphor that would illustrate that challenging idea in the oh-so-perfect way. These ideas swarm like buzzing mosquitoes around me, a swarm that has thickened every day since I pressed the “good-to-go” button, signing off on the final, final, final version of my book. Along with the teeming mass of amendment ideas comes a full-on flock of criticisms, worries, anxieties, and straight-up doubt about the value, quality, and future of what I’m about to publish and all of the tasks that come with promoting it.

            Self-doubt is a malady among writers throughout the writing process. This particular pre-publication phase invites a custom-designed variety of this doubt. And those mosquitoes? They’re now a black cloud that hovers around me like the dirt cloud that followed Pigpen in the old Charlie Brown comics.

            Of course, any creative person must critique her work. Our inner dialogue is there to remind us of items omitted, or of extras we would like to include in our work. That's the voice we need as we write. Our inner editors are invaluable during the process of turning a rough idea into a finished, publishable work. External editors are also invaluable, be they a peer critique group or a hired editor or proofreader. James Mitchner once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” To be able to look at one’s own work and say, “Nope. It’s not good enough yet. More work to do,” is essential. It is a process not to be skipped if we want our finished product to be of a caliber to be proud of. The inner and outer editor team helps us to do just that and without them the creative process is just an unchecked ego trip with a poor product at the end.

            All of THAT critique has been heeded. My new book underwent peer review, professional editing, professional proofreading and design. All of my inner editor’s and my external editors’ concerns have been addressed, corrected, polished, and packaged. These down-to-the-wire doubt mosquitoes are not the valid and invaluable work of my inner editor and external editor team; rather, they’re the unmistakable handiwork of my inner critic.

            The mosquitoes buzz around and their tiny little mosquito voices say, It’ll never be good enough, or Nobody will ever read this. What a waste of time and money! or What business do you have claiming to be an expert on this? Sometimes the doubt mosquitoes hum away with a simple, but effective oldie: Who do you think you are?  (Special note: In a perfect world, mosquito words would be typed in .00002 font.)

            You’d think that the little suckers would know better than to show up after I’ve published two award-winning books or that I'd be immune to their infernal zzzzzzz around my ears. You’d think that I'd have long been able to recognize and dismiss their irksome criticisms, able to simply swat them away, or disregard them completely. Sometimes I can. But really, the metaphor is apt. Have you ever tried to ignore a mosquito? No matter your size or your strength they can buzz you awake from a sound sleep, destroy your camping trip, or bring you in from a beautiful sunset because you just can’t take them any more.

            It’s at about this place in an article like this that I’d usually provide a bulleted list of techniques for ridding yourself of these unwanted pre-publication pests. Instead, I’ll just give you one big, fat, can of doubt mosquito repellant offered by a pretty prestigious writer:

            “Our doubts are traitors, 
            and make us lose the good we oft might win, 
            by fearing to attempt.”  —
William Shakespeare

            Here, I dare to interpret The Bard’s unequalled prose for the purpose of granting myself some relief from my pesky pests in these pre-publication hours.  His message offers this humble writer a few things. First, my little mosquito doubts are traitors, liars, and scoundrels. They are not to be believed. Though we may not be able to ignore the nuisance of them, we must recognize that their buzzing is simply the noise of doubt, and nothing more. How do I know they're liars? For one thing, I checked my manuscript and more than half of the "last minute brilliant ideas" that have buzzed me for the last few weeks were already in the book, many of them almost verbatum. I've already written them!  Of the remaining 50% of the ideas, upon closer examination, are either a) not all that special, b)redundant to what I've already written, or c) completely optional and not essential to the point of the book. Lying little doubt bastards.           

            Shakespeare’s words also address the cost of giving in, of giving up, and letting traitorous doubts keep us from producing and sharing our creative works. The cost? To “lose the good we oft might win”. The operative phrase here is “oft might”.

             Here’s the truth about writing a book; it may, or may not be a commercial successful. In fact, the odds are long on that one. It may, or may not gain critical acclaim. We have no guarantee of rewards in the creative arts. But The Bard and I agree, that good is “oft won" in creating art. Whether it is commercial success, personal satisfaction, offering inspiration, entertainment, comfort, distraction, or information to others, or simply the reward of having creating something of which we are proud, rewards for the act of creating abound. We risk all of that, and possibly much more by giving in to our fears by believing the lying little buggers of doubt, and by abandoning our creative endeavors. While we can never have a guarantee of rewards, I know one thing; the rewards of publishing surely will not occur if we give in to fears and stop writing and publishing. 

            For myself, for my writing peers, and for the writers whom I coach, I invite us all to reframe that swarm of mosquito doubts when we’re on the brink of publication, and throughout the process of creating. That they even show up on the scene is evidence that we are stretching, risking, and creating. Sure, employ good editing, rewriting, and welcome the input of trusted others to create the best story or book or poem you’re capable of writing.

            When all of that is done, bring out the bug spray. 

            As for the swarm of last-minute mosquito doubts? Yeah, I hear their hum this morning. In answer to their tiny little voices, I say simply, “BUZZ OFF!” I'm going to sit here and enjoy a pest-free sunset while I wait for my brand new books to arrive.  


Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is the author of a novel, Fire & Water and the IPPY Award winning memoir, Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family.  Her upcoming book From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers (due out in August 2018) is three parts tools and simple tips and one part cheerleader, encouraging writers to speak with confidence on any subject to audiences of any size.  




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