1 like = 1 fact about me as a writer

I did this last week on Twitter, and wanted to compile them and share them here. I got 17 likes, so here are 17 random facts about me as writer.

I did this last week on Twitter, and wanted to compile them and share them here. I got 17 likes, so here are 17 random facts about me as writer.

1. I wrote my first novel-length original fic at age 15 because I couldn’t get my plot to work as a fan fiction.

2. My favorite of my published books so far is Ripper’s Victims, because that’s the work closest to my heart. (My mom’s favorite is the one about H.H. Holmes.)

3. I keep track of how much I write each day, but not always in the same place. Sometimes it’s on the NaNoWriMo website, sometimes a sheet of graph paper, and sometimes in my daily planner. (I’ve written over 300k so far this year.)

4. My writing schedule varies wildly. Some days I write 0 words. Others I’m up and at the computer immediately and forget to take breaks for real-life things. It all balances out.

5. In 2020 I decided to complete NaNoWriMo (50k words) in two days, simply because I did it in three days in 2019. I hit 50k by 8pm November 2. And had to baby my wrist for months afterward because … people aren’t meant to type 50k in two days.

6. Because of 5, I taught myself how to dictate my writing, both academic and fiction. I didn’t think it was possible for me but really it’s just the learning curve I didn’t want to tackle.

7. I started lighting a candle when I write as a signal to my brain that it’s time for words, and somehow it’s grown up into this entire thing.


8. The proposal for an academic book is the hardest part for me. I love having swirling ideas and hate forcing myself to commit to a very specific outline. I’ll put off writing the outline as long as possible, even when I know what I want to propose next.

9. I got the contract for Ripper’s Victims because my editor saw my published dissertation and emailed to ask if I had anything she might be able to help me with. (Put yourself out there!)

10. When it’s time to edit, I prefer a hard copy to a screen. Considering the usual length of my manuscripts, this generally means going somewhere to have it printed, since our elderly printer isn’t up to the task.

11. Printing things off means I can use my custom stamps. I get tired of writing the same thing over and over on my first drafts so … I had these made. And of course they’re red.


12. When I’m writing fiction, I tend to “cast” actors as my characters. It especially helps when a character is very much not like me – say, when I have someone whose speech patterns are very calm in moments of stress. If I can picture the actor saying it, it helps.

13. I frequently right click to find synonyms for words I’ve used in my own writing that I’m pretty sure mean what they think they mean, just to be positive. Sometimes I realize I’ve used a word that doesn’t mean what I think it means …

14. I used to write all my “novels” by hand, in pencil, and super teeny – two lines of writing per ruled line on college-ruled paper. I did NaNoWriMo by hand in 2013, but otherwise I type the first draft these days.

15. I used to say all my dialogue out loud as I typed it. My brother laughed because he could hear me arguing with myself. I can write out in public now because I don’t have to do that anymore … but some days I still find myself muttering things as I type them, dialogue or not.

16. I don’t like doing book titles, chapter titles, or heading titles. They’re usually last-minute things I put in before I have to deliver something. It’s rare for me to have a title early on in a project.

17. When the words are flowing and the writing is good, I write fast. Really fast. Which makes the slow days feel agonizingly slow.

Share a random fact about yourself below!

“Don’t compare your rough draft to someone else’s final product.”

You’ve probably seen that before, maybe in Helvetica with some sort of soothing photo background, but maybe you’ve never really thought about what, exactly, it means. How many steps go between a rough draft and a final product?

Short answer: too many, thanks.

Longer answer: let me walk you through it.

First, I have some sort of nebulous idea. Sometimes it just comes from reading and thinking about a topic. Other times I see a CFP (Call for Papers/Proposals) that gets me thinking in a certain direction. Depending on the deadline, I can remain at this nebulous idea stage for weeks or months.

Sometimes I do a little more research here, too, with my idea in mind. This can help it become less nebulous. This means another few weeks (or months) before I actually start to draft it. I might take notes, scribbling ideas or phrases here and there, but a lot of my pre-planning takes place solely in my head.

Then comes the first written thing: the proposal. I have to have a good enough grasp on the idea to get it boiled down to fit the required word count. This can be around 300 words for a conference paper or a chapter, or longer for a book proposal (which also includes a couple chapters), but it’s me laying out what I’m going to do.

It’s also the first time where my idea – and however much writing I’ve done so far – gets feedback. This is important: I’ve only really started writing the thing, but I’m already getting feedback. Someone else has already seen it and provided a nudge.

It’s also important to note that, at this point, I’ve got a complete outline. I know where things are going, and the people judging whether it’s an idea worth pursuing know it, too. If things get approved, I’m locked in.

Then, if I get the go-ahead, we get to the actual writing itself. Which usually looks like:

  • the first draft: just get the words on the page. Jump around that outline if I get stuck. Slowly narrow down the parts of the draft that still need to be written until I have to write the stuff I didn’t want to at first.
  • let it sit: put the draft aside after saving it in multiple formats, just in case, and don’t look at it for a while. Do more research if I found any gaps. Let it become as new and strange to myself as I can.
  • read it again: with multiple pens and my stamps at hand, I pick up a hard copy of my rough draft and go to town on it. I go directly for the weak spots. Sorry, Past Me, but this part sucks. So does this one. And this … well, it’s a mess. I color-code the issues and make a ton of notes to myself.
  • attempt to fix it: once the paper copy is covered, I’ll go back to the computer and start implementing the changes. I say “attempt to fix it” because yeah, sometimes new issues get introduced at this point, but … I try.
  • let it rest again: if I have time, I take another break. Try to make it strange and new and exciting again before I come back to it.
  • read through from the beginning, slowly: this is where I have Word read it out loud to me, and man, this part takes time. I’m looking for continuity, to see if the patches I put in totally stand out and need to be smoothed over, and also for any typos. Through, though, thorough … that kind of thing. I’m super nitpicky at this stage because it’s usually the last thing I do, mostly because the thing is due.

And now somebody else sees it. The whole thing and not just the proposal.

At this point the writing gets bounced back and forth multiple times between the editor, peer reviewer(s), and me. I get comments, make changes, and send it back. Get updated comments, make more changes, and send it back. I think the most times I’ve volleyed something is three, but I’m responding to multiple people at this point, in multiple roles. Trying to make them happy because, if they’re not happy, this isn’t going to get published.

Then there’s another break, on their end instead of mine this time. Time to twiddle my thumbs or get more ideas.

Some day, out of the blue, I’ll get proofs. Another chance to go over it line by line and look for typos or other issues that might have snuck in. If it’s a book, I’m also doing the index. And usually I’ve got a couple other people reading through it at this point in case I miss something.

And then – then – it gets published.

Phew.

I mean, I fall into the same trap sometimes – I want that first draft to be perfect. Polished. The absolute best writing I’m capable of producing. Even when I know all the steps that still have to come before it’s actually out there.

But your first draft is just … a draft. Something only you ever have to see. The thing you’re going to massage and tweak before handing it over to other people who will further massage and tweak.

Don’t compare your first draft to someone else’s final product, and don’t compare your first draft to your own previous final products, either.

Do you struggle with this, too? Do you have any advice on how to keep from thinking this way?

Ripper suspect: a Jewish slaughterman

One way of getting around naming an actual known person as having been the Ripper is to propose an occupation. In this case, I’m looking at the idea that the Ripper may have been a shochet, or a Jewish slaughterman. It’s a theory Robin Odell covers in the 1965 book Jack the Ripper in Fact and Fiction, but also one that appealed to newspaper readers in 1888.

Why pick “a Jewish slaughterman” as a Ripper suspect? Let us count the ways.

  1. Antisemitism was rife in London in the late 1800s. If you see a Ripper suspect described as a “foreigner,” chances are the person was using the then-common description for “Jew.” Not allowed to settle in other parts of London, Jewish immigrants gathered together to form their own communities and cared for each other with social programs not available to anyone else, because the government didn’t provide them. Rather than respond with frustration against the government, the people turned their anger against the Jews.

    It was also a major concern in the case on the night of the so-called Double Event because of graffiti chalked on a wall along the path the Ripper is thought to have fled after murdering Kate Eddowes. Called “the Goulston Street graffito,” the actual text was washed off before there was enough light for it to be photographed, and variations are all we have left. It said something along the lines of The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing and has been interpreted, variably, as either blaming the Jewish people for the Ripper murders, or having something to do with Freemason legends.

    At the time, Police Commissioner Charles Warren recommended that the message be erased before it could be seen by too many people because he suspected it would be interpreted the first way. The police were already struggling because they had arrested a Jewish man named John Pizer (nickname: Leather Apron) for the crimes but then had to let him go since he was in custody as they continued. This was also a time when mobs would descend on people, claiming they were the Ripper, causing these victims to turn to the police for protection. It was very easy, then, for East Enders to combine their fear of the Ripper with their antisemitism.
  2. It was already suspected that the Ripper had some knowledge of biology. The common image of the Ripper in a top hat and cape also has him carrying a doctor’s bag for this very reason. The killer was reported to have removed specific organs from his victims and worked very quickly in conditions of poor lighting, to the point where physicians commented that they could not have done the same thing in the given amount of time.

    Aside from causing actual physicians to frantically replace their usual bags with ones that didn’t carry the Ripper’s stigma, this also started a debate. Did the Ripper honestly have anatomical knowledge, or was he just lucky? Could he have gained such knowledge somewhere other than medical school?

    There were numerous slaughterhouses in the East End, so the Ripper could have come from any of them and gained whatever anatomical knowledge he might have had from his work there. As a bonus, it was a common sight to see men walking around covered in blood because of their work. A slaughterman could easily have escaped after the murders without necessarily having to clean himself thoroughly because he would have been expected to be in such a state, anyway.
  3. Unless someone was rather famous, it’s difficult to find records and therefore attach a name to a suspect. Rather than accusing someone famous, whose descendants might have something to say about that, it’s easier to look at a group of people who have the same presumed skill set and say “There were thousands of them. We’ll never know which one.”

… and that’s very likely true: we’ll never actually know who the Ripper was. We’ve narrowed it down to “someone who was alive in 1888 and at least near the East End,” but, other than that … we’re left grasping at straws. True, if we think that the Ripper did in fact exhibit some anatomical knowledge, a butcher seems to be a good candidate, but what about the men with proven medical training whose names have also been put forward?

What do you think? Does this theory belong on the books or in the bin?

Ripper suspect: George Chapman

George Chapman – no relation to Annie Chapman; birth name Seweryn Kłosowski – is one of the oldest Ripper suspects. Although he was arrested, tried, and hanged for three poisonings, police at the time thought he may have been the Ripper. Let’s see if we agree.

Chapman was born in Poland in 1865. At age 14, he was apprenticed to a surgeon, and in October 1885 he enrolled in a brief course in practical surgery at the Warsaw Praga Hospital. It’s unclear exactly when he left Poland for England, but he was working as a doctor’s assistant in Warsaw until December 1886, and a receipt from February 1887 still places him in Poland. He settled in the East End as a hairdresser’s assistant in either late 1887 or early 1888.

So far Chapman seems to be a plausible Ripper suspect. The Ripper was thought to have anatomical knowledge that could be attributed to being a butcher or a doctor, and Chapman had medical training. He had also moved to the East End shortly before the murders began and records can prove he was there during the Autumn of Terror. On top of this, he was a known serial killer. So what’s the hesitation?

Jack the Ripper killed women on the street by cutting their throats and then mutilating their bodies with a knife or knives. There is no known connection between these women, although various people have done their best to hook them together in a conspiracy.

George Chapman murdered his mistresses by poisoning them with tartar-emetic. He had a string of relationships with women who presented themselves as his wife, and while some of them left Chapman because he was violent, three of them died because of him. Chapman’s first known murder was of Mary Isabella Spink in 1897; his second, Bessie Taylor in 1901; and his third, Maud Marsh in 1902. Reports at his trial indicate that he was physically abusive to all three, as well as the other women – some mothers of his children – who left him, perhaps before he could murder them, as well.

Suspicions were high enough after Marsh’s death for the bodies of Spink and Taylor to be exhumed, as well, in order to prove poisoning. Chapman was charged with Marsh’s murder, brought to trial, convicted on March 19, 1903, and hanged on April 7 with his motives still unproven. Although he inherited a legacy from Spink, there was no monetary reason for him to have murdered Taylor and March.

No less than Fredrick Abberline himself considered George Chapman to have been Jack the Ripper. When he spoke to the policeman who arrested Chapman, he’s reported to have said “You’ve got Jack the Ripper at last!” During the initial investigation Abberline had interviewed Chapman’s “wife” at the time, who apparently reported that he was out and about at all hours. However, Chapman – who was then still going by Seweryn Kłosowski – was not named as a suspect in 1888. It was only his arrest for serial poisoning that put his name on the short list.

So: we know that Chapman in the East End at the proper time, and that he was violent toward the women in his life. He had medical training. And we also know he was a murderer, but the question remains: would the Ripper have switched from using a knife to using poison? From killing strangers who could not have been connected back to him to murdering his own “wives”?

What do you think? Did they really capture Jack the Ripper at last?

Ripper suspect: James Maybrick

Remember back when we were discussing Montague John Druitt and we learned it’s bad luck to have died shortly after the Ripper murders were “finished”? James Maybrick, a Liverpool cotton merchant, had some of that same luck, except “died” doesn’t quite fit here. His wife was convicted of his murder and sentenced to death.

Florence Chandler was 18 when she met 42-year-old Maybrick on a sea voyage to Liverpool. It lasted six days, which was long enough for the couple to go from strangers to being engaged. They married in 1881 and had two children by 1886. He had multiple mistresses; she had at least one affair. He sickened suddenly in late April 1889 and died 15 days later. The inquest declared it was arsenic poisoning. Florence became the key suspect.

The trial was sensational, especially since this was an American woman, and the judge’s conduct in particular likely led to her death sentence being commuted to life in prison. In 1904 the case was reexamined and Florence was released. She was the more interesting Maybrick until 1992, when “the Ripper diary” hit headlines.

The provenance of the book is confusing, especially since the story has changed a few times. The contents aren’t really any more enlightening, since the author of the diary never gives his own name. He claims responsibility for the murders of the Canonical Five, as well as two others. And apparently this anonymous author is supposed to be James Maybrick.

The “diary” surfaced in 1992 and has been subjected to multiple tests to determine whether the ink could have been used in 1888. The book itself is less controversial, since the binding and the pages are apparently of the correct vintage, but someone could have found the book and then written the story themselves much later. Some of the details “the Ripper” provides about the murders are inaccurate, but align with oft-repeated parts of the story that someone who was not the Ripper might have heard in the decades since. In fact, the owner of the diary made a statement in 1995 that his wife actually wrote the diary while he dictated. (His solicitor submitted a repudiation of this affidavit, and then he withdrew the repudiation. Just to make things even more confusing.)

The idea seems to be that James Maybrick embarked on the murders as a reaction to his wife’s infidelities, even though it seems that she only began her affair after he had continually cheated on her with multiple women. I suppose we can counter these double standards by arguing that she murdered him when she found out he was murdering other people, even though a twenty-first inquiry into the case revealed that Maybrick was taking multiple medications at the time of his death, most of which were poisonous. It’s highly unlikely Florence Maybrick killed her husband, and it’s also highly unlikely that James Maybrick was Jack the Ripper.

But the diary isn’t the only piece of evidence that surfaced naming the previously unsuspected Maybrick. In 1993, a year after the diary was presented to the world, a man named Albert Johnson bought an antique pocket watch with a strange etching inside. Someone had scratched in the initials of the Canonical Five women (not including the two unidentified women from the diary), James Maybrick’s signature, and the words “I am Jack.” Separate examinations determined that the scratches were not recent – say, if someone had come across the diary story in 1992 and decided to fake them on an true antique watch – but the timing is still puzzling. If Maybrick was a Ripper “nobody” until the diary surfaced in 1992 because it reached the hands of a new owner, how coincidental is it that the pocket watch also changed hands and came to light a year later?

The diary made a splash in the 1990s with books arguing both for and against its authenticity, but it – and James Maybrick – has been largely dismissed by those studying the case. If the Ripper had left a diary for us to find, that would have been big news indeed – even bigger if he’d gotten all the details right and actually signed his name. But the diary goes the way of the shawl and the letters: an interesting splash for experts to argue over, but ultimately not the key to unlock the mystery.

Have you heard about the Ripper diary and the pocket watch? What did you think when you first learned about them? (Does Jack the Ripper strike you as the type to keep a diary in the first place?)

How do you encourage a writer?

This has come up a few times lately, in different settings. One was a discussion with a mother of young kids who wanted to know how, exactly, I got to like writing so much. One was a question in an online forum about whether or not they should tell their friend about all the errors in a story the friend and shared. And one was on Father’s Day. They all kind of mush together in my answer.

The experience I can really point to as being That Moment comes from when I was 15 and writing my first long original fiction. I’d been doing some fanfic, but I had this idea for a character and a plot that just didn’t fit within any of my fandoms. So, not really knowing what I was doing (which was probably helpful in and of itself), I started writing my own story.

I don’t entirely remember how this next part started, or who suggested it, but it turned into me reading that day’s output to my dad each night. And he just … listened. He didn’t gush over it, and he didn’t critique it. He was simply consistently available to listen to me read my story. And the next one. And the next one. To the point where, when I went off to college and couldn’t read to him every night, I recorded myself reading my new one. Somewhere he has 6 CDs of a Rebecca Frost original audiobook.

It evolved from there to printed “zero editions” in binders and now it’s emailed files. He got a kindle so I could email him my stories as soon as I was done with them (rough plots and typos have never been an issue for him) and now reads them on his iPhone. Come November and NaNoWriMo, he starts asking me mid-month if I’m done yet.

We’ll talk a little bit about them, but nothing at length. No real critique. I’ve made him cry with character deaths (sorry …) and we’ve got a running joke about how poorly I treated my first male main character before I let him get his happy ending. We’re talking two decades of Rebecca writing her little stories (some of them not so little – I maxed out one fantasy epic at over 250,000 words) and sharing them with her dad when they’re done.

That’s been such a big thing: somebody who wants to read the next one. And if you’ve got a writing friend or kid, take notice: all it takes is the time for you to read it and say that you did. That’s it. Maybe point out a cool line or particularly emotional scene as proof.

That’s where the “Do I tell my friend her story is illogical or lacks depth or …?” question comes in. If someone hands you their writing and sort of awkwardly says they want you to read it, then that’s your job. Read it. Let them know when you did. If you like the person at all, let them know you’d like to read the next one, too. (Seriously it’s scary sharing your writing with someone. If I get anything less than “Let me know when you’re done with the next one,” you’re not getting the next one. And I’ll be shutting up about my writing around you in the future.)

The only time you should give feedback on someone else’s writing is when feedback is specifically asked for. “Hey, can you tell me if this plot is off?” Respond to the plot. “Can you proofread this for me?” Clarify that they just want typos and such and then only look at typos and such. “I wrote a novel about dragons. Would you want to read it?” Read it and let them know you did it. Maybe tell them what you liked about the dragons.

I’ve been a writing instructor. I’ve taught my share of college composition. I know you want to argue with me and say grammar and punctuation matter – and yes, sometimes misuses make things a lot harder to read. But, unless this is taking place in a classroom or as an agreed-upon exchange and critique, it’s not your job to teach your friend about the genitive case or they really need to research x. If they go to publish and keep getting things kicked back and ask you why you think this might be, then you’re being invited to critique. Otherwise you’re being asked to encourage.

We learn to write by writing. If we get quashed when we’re young, we’re not going to learn. We’re just going to stop.

It doesn’t take much to encourage a writer. Just a little bit of your time to show that you don’t think their stories are frivolous and stupid. And then, once they’ve written more and have been able to grow (and look back on that first story and wince and thing “You let me read you that and you still came back for more?”) you can have good things to say about what they write.

How about you in your own writing journey? Who’s been your biggest source of encouragement and support?

Ripper suspects – Joseph Barnett or George Hutchinson

It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of my research instead of my writing musings, so let’s jump back in to Jack the Ripper and consider a pair of suspects: Joseph Barnett or George Hutchinson. These are an “or” pair instead of an “and” pair, because nobody’s (yet) suggested that they worked together, but the story behind them is very similar.

Both Barnett and Hutchinson are connected to Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the so-called Canonical Five victims of Jack the Ripper. Choosing either Barnett or Hutchinson as the Ripper clearly makes Mary Jane Kelly the last. It actually positions her at the center of all of the murders.

Joseph Barnett was Mary Jane Kelly’s boyfriend. The two of them met in April 1887 and decided to move in together on their second encounter. The vast majority of what we know – or think we know – about Mary Jane Kelly comes from Barnett’s testimony at the inquest after her murder. He lived with her until the end of October 1888, when they quarreled and separated.

Barnett had been living with Mary Jane Kelly at 13 Miller’s Court when they separated. It was a very small room, with only a single bed, and one of the reasons for the separation seems to be that Mary Jane was letting other women sleep there. Since this was the Autumn of Terror where women were being murdered in the streets, and since Mary Jane had a steady room that wasn’t in a lodging house, it seems like it was a kind thing for her to do.

Another instigating factor for their separation also seems to have been the fact that Barnett had lost his job as a fish porter, resulting in Mary Jane Kelly’s return to sex work. Barnett apparently disproved of this as much as he did of her offering their small, shared space to other women, and so he left her. Their separation was the reason why Barnett was not also sleeping at 13 Miller’s Court the night of November 8-9, and why Mary Jane Kelly was alone and murdered there.

Barnett was not a suspect at the time. In fact, Inspector Fredrick Abberline personally cleared him after a four-hour interrogation, which included an inspection of Barnett’s clothes. No blood was found, and Abberline, at least, was satisfied.

The same cannot be said for Bruce Paley who, in 1996, named Barnett as the Ripper. According to Paley, Barnett decided to become the Ripper in order to scare Mary Kelly off the streets and force her to stop making money through sex work out of fear of being murdered. On the one hand, Barnett’s plan seems to have worked if Mary Jane Kelly was worried enough to allow other women to sleep indoors with her. On the other, he apparently couldn’t scare her enough to stop. Thus, Paley argues, Barnett was driven to kill the woman he loved because he couldn’t save her otherwise.

George Hutchinson also became a Ripper suspect not in the 1880s but in the 1990s, this time in a 1998 book by Robert Hinton. Hutchinson was known to the police at the time because, after Mary Jane Kelly’s murder, he made a statement to the police about a man he had seen with Mary Jane Kelly shortly before her murder. Hutchinson, unemployed, apparently had plenty of time that night to hang around Miller’s Court and get a good look at anyone who passed by.

Abberline also interviewed Hutchinson, although he was considered only as a witness and not a suspect. Hutchinson had known Mary Jane Kelly for three years and his incredibly detailed description of the man entering the room with her was explained because Hutchinson thought the man looked “foreign,” which piqued his interest and concern. After all, women were being murdered, so of course he would memorize every detail about any man who seemed to be going into his friend’s room as a client.

Although numerous skeptics have doubted Hutchinson’s description of the Ripper, he wasn’t accused of being the murderer himself until Hinton. And here the story sounds very similar: angry that Mary Jane Kelly was supporting herself through sex work – and not relying on him as her sole sexual partner and source of money – Hutchinson orchestrated the Ripper murders, hoping to scare Mary Jane Kelly into stopping.

Hinton suggests that Hutchinson, after seeing Mary Jane Kelly take that client into her room and that client later depart, snapped. Hutchinson therefore went into 13 Miller’s Court himself, shook Mary Jane Kelly awake – or tried to, considering the reports that she was very drunk that night – and was confronted with the reality of the woman she was instead of the apparent perfection he had preciously imagined. With this ideal shattered, Hutchinson lashed out and killed her.

So: two men who knew Mary Jane Kelly, and were known to have been close to her at the time of her death. One of them was cleared as a suspect by Fredrick Abberline, and the other never even considered to be one. More than a century after the Ripper murders, each in turn became accused of being the Ripper to turn Mary Jane Kelly away from sex work … and into his arms.

What do you think? Was there something in the air in the 1990s? Would a man ever actually turn to serial murder as a way of pursuing the “perfect” woman? Or should we let Barnett and Hutchinson rest in peace?

The curse of “perfection”

The other day I read a comment (about a knitting pattern, but it still applies) where someone said “If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect.”

It wasn’t even an exorbitant amount of money. Just a very normal price for a knitting pattern. Probably too low, even, but we don’t need to get sidetracked into discussions of fair pay for designers. The part that’s stuck with me is this idea of “If I’m paying for it, then it should be perfect.”

Putting your writing (of any kind) out there for other people to read is a scary thing, because it means random strangers can pick it apart. Insult it. Post that they can’t believe they paid $X for this. Sharing your writing means opening yourself up to critique, criticism, and insults of something you’ve worked hard on, and done all you could to “fix,” but …

Errors happen.

Especially when your document goes from person to person and each is focused on perfecting one aspect of it. Your editor fixes your commas, maybe, but then once it goes into layout, you end up with a weird line division of a multi-syllable word. It’s not because layout wanted to introduce an error. Layout did exactly what layout is supposed to do. And hopefully you catch it in the proofs stage, but in the proofs stage you’re looking for errors and trying to build your index, working under a hard deadline.

I think it’s time for Gaiman’s First Law again:

“Picking up your first copy of a book you wrote, if there’s one typo, it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”

Neil Gaiman

We’re human. All of us, no matter what our title or CV or reputation. We’re all trying our best to contribute what the process – and it’s a long, long process – needs from us so we can end up putting something in your hands. We read our own words so many times, trying to approach them from so many mindsets, that a mistake isn’t a sign of neglect. Everyone involved is doing their best and laboring over the document and reading so closely that yes, sometimes we miss something that a casual reader will think is glaringly obvious.

There will always be errors, and there will always be people pointing out errors. I guess my fear is that someone will read “If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect” and then … never try. Never write something in the first place. If a complete stranger has such high expectations, never having met you, imagine how high your own must be since you’re fully aware of your own capabilities.

Have you ever heard this one?

A good dissertation is a done dissertation. A great dissertation is a published dissertation. A perfect dissertation is neither.

old academic adage now apparently posted everywhere without an accompanying citation

Stop expecting perfection. Of other people. Of yourself. If perfection were a requirement, nothing would ever be published. We’d all be stuck in the pit of despair and red ink. Forever.

If your idea is going to get out there, you need to make peace with the fact that it won’t be perfect. (Whether you really want to make peace with the fact that strangers will communicate with you solely to point out errors is your own decision.)

There are some things you have no control over. There are some things you just have to let go. One of the first is others’ idea of perfection. And one of the second is your own.

What do you think? Can writing ever actually be “perfect”? (And do people send the same number of comments about something if it is?)

Interview with Grab the Lapels

Melanie over at GTL has interviewed me for her Meet the Writer Series. Go on over and check it out! If GTL is new for you, Melanie explains:

Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Rebecca Frost. 

She starts off by explaining a bit how we met. She tracked me down through this website and we emailed back and forth for quite a while about true crime, books, reading … the good stuff. And then we realized we actually have a friend in common.

Melanie asked if I’d like to be featured in her Meet the Writer series, and I jumped at the chance. Head on over to her blog to see what I have to say.

About handling multiple projects again …

I had a virtual conference this past weekend and I was talking to some friends I haven’t seen in over a year. This is usually how it goes for me: someone asks what I’ve been up, to, and … I realize I need to start counting things off on my fingers. Which inevitably leads to another question of “How in the world do you do it?”

Right now, in this very moment, I’ve got three book projects going. They’re all in different stages, but they’re all currently in progress. Some of the progress of getting a book published is actually “waiting,” which is helpful, because I can fill the “waiting” time with other work.

It’s also something I rather seriously compartmentalize. Two of the projects are currently in the “waiting” stage. I’m waiting for one of them to get me proofs, and for feedback on the other, so currently I don’t really consider either of those as “active.” I don’t know exactly when they will be “active” again, but, until they hit my mailbox with the next step and a new deadline, they’re basically snoozed.

A downside to the “waiting on other people” can be that multiple things hit your inbox at once. There was that one memorable year when I wrote three chapters for different collections, plus a book, and things just kept hitting my inbox with tight deadlines and a lot of tasks. That’s when I had to step my compartmentalization up to the next level, assigning each project a block of time per day instead of a block of days.

This is also the time when anxiety can kick into higher gear and imposter syndrome can rear its head, because people are actually reading what I wrote, or they’ll soon be able to. They can pick it apart and tear my argument down piece by piece. (For some reason anxiety never worries that the publisher won’t be able to keep up with demand and people will complain about that.)

And usually when you get feedback, there are at least some positive comments in the mix … but you’re not concentrating on those. You’re looking at what you have to change, and how you’re going to do it, and whether you’re going to be able to keep to your main goals and ideas secure while responding to outside influences. (This is why it’s nice to only have one project in the feedback part of the process at a time, if possible, so at least you can retreat to something else for a break.)

And honestly, it’s only when I have to catch someone else at my life that I step back and see the forest for the trees. I know that’s usually meant as something people should do, because otherwise they miss things, but … for me, at least, focusing on one project at a time (and strictly outlining what those times should be) helps me block out the wider anxieties and put as much of my energy as possible into the project at hand.

How do you deal with working on multiple projects at once?