One of my favorite quotes is by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Personally, I think this quote can apply to all areas of my life, both personal and professional. It applies to me as an author who is always learning new things about the craft and business of writing. There are days when I look at what I’ve written and balk. Who wrote this? A teenager? Where is the beautiful imagery? The heartfelt emotion? How do people even fall in love? (Those are rough days, when I get too far into my head wondering what makes two people fall in love and I start to question everything.) A year or two ago, my publisher of almost a decade closed their doors, and two dozen stories were suddenly back in my ownership. I was excited about the chance to self-publish them and create a name for myself, as they hadn’t reached a wide audience with my publisher. I began making my self-publishing plan and drafting a release schedule. I owned my covers and I had worked with my publisher’s editors before they were originally released, so I just needed to go through them and clean up any lingering typos or formatting issues.
Or so I thought. When I read through the first one, I wasn’t decidedly happy or unhappy with it. The story was cute and the characters were fun and relatable. The prose wasn’t beautiful and flowery (honestly, it was a bit bare), but I thought perhaps that was just my voice as an author. Then I read another one. There were issues, so many issues. Character issues. Plot inconsistencies. Words that didn’t mean what I once thought they did. And the prose was so bare. It quickly became apparent that what I considered my “voice” was instead creating an empty experience for readers. They couldn’t grab onto the world I thrust them into because I wasn’t exploring it with my five senses, and without me feeding them those tidbits, they didn’t stand a chance. My story didn’t stand a chance.
I was devastated. I was upset. I questioned my entire career as an author. Who had published these stories? Who had bought them and given them favorable reviews? All the people who had been involved in my career up to that point – what had they been thinking? How could they have let me put out these stories? I wallowed in self-pity and self-deprecation.
Then I was reintroduced to Maya Angelou’s quote, and I was finally able to cut myself a bit of slack. I wrote my first story at eighteen, fresh out of high school. I’d been an avid reader, but I’d never studied the craft of writing, so it was understandable that my stories didn’t live up when I compared them to those written by authors with decades of experience, of trial and error, of learning from their shortcomings. For my entire eight years with my publisher, writing had been a hobby. I had never studied craft or marketing; when my publisher came to me for ideas for my book covers, I didn’t even consider what was on the cover of other books on the market. I wasn’t writing to sell books, or even write great books. I was writing to represent these characters that weren’t being represented in mainstream fiction, and in that regard I had succeeded. I featured characters who would have otherwise spent their entire lives as secondary characters in someone else’s story, stereotyped as a gay best friend flatter than the page he lived on. And looking back now, with a clearer head, I’m proud of what I did. I’ve decided not to rewrite these stories to make them fit for rerelease. They were a learning experience, and still are, and I can appreciate them for that. Not every story needs to be published to have been a success, in its own way. As I move forward, writing new and better things, I’m grateful for what I learned both about writing and publishing from those first stories.
Now that I know better, I do better. And in the future, when I know better than I do now, I’ll do even better. There’s always room to grow and improve, and I look forward to it.
By: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Kayla Bain-Vrba is the author of more than twenty stories of short romantic fiction. She has now turned to writing full length romantic fiction set in small town Wisconsin. When she’s not writing, she enjoys crafting and spending time with her other half. Visit her at her website kaylabain-vrba.com.