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PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

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Sisters of Chaos book 2 update June 5, 2018

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book-proofreading.jpg

I haven’t said anything about the progress of the sequel to Enduring Chaos in a long time. It’s intentional, though I’m not exactly sure why. Some nonsensical, subconscious mix of not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, feeling like people would just be frustrated with me posting about what I’m doing while still not having the book ready, feeling like I’m making too big a deal of it, still taking blog posts too seriously to just sit down and write one, or perhaps some straight-up pride (or guilt). But, it’s coming up on five years since the first book was released, which makes me groan, and I owe you, the readers, if nothing else, an explanation.

If you’ve been waiting for book two, all I can say is I’m sorry.

I have been working on it. After making a push last year and in late 2016, I finally finished the final first draft last summer. I then spent the next few months doing my preliminary edits before sending it off to beta readers in late fall. My beta readers gave me fantastic feedback, which came back in winter. Unfortunately, they made it clear that the story still needed some significant editing.

The editing has been a slog for the last few months. Just trying to figure out how to portray what I was trying to show instead of the less favourable impression the readers got, on one scene alone, held me up for a month or more. This has proven to be a very challenging book to write, and subsequently edit. There are particularly complex conflicts and character interactions, a whole wealth of new characters with their own cultures and histories to introduce, struggles not to bog down readers with too many characters or too much info in a notably bigger story than the first book*, dealing with all the backstory that a sequel entails (which I have never written before), remnants of earlier drafts that more often than not end up mucking up the works and have to be reworked, even hints of character development that the characters themselves aren’t aware of. Getting everything to align properly has also been tricky, because unlike every other book I’ve written, I wrote consecutively occurring storylines one POV at a time, and balancing timelines and spreading out scenes from different characters when I put it all together has required a lot of tweaking. It’s a lot of work and a lot of aspects that are difficult to handle.

* Spoiler alert: I completely failed at that one. Still working on some scenes there.

However, the beta readers are in agreement that it is a much better book than the first. Even though it’s not where I want it to be yet, I am quite pleased with it so far and have high hopes for it when it’s finished. The manuscript has already been through a lot of changes over the years and it has become a much stronger book for all the work I’ve put into it. I briefly considered trying to push it out for Gen Con this year, but I don’t want to rush it just to get it done. I want this book to be as good as it can be before I release it, particularly because it’s already better than the first book.

I have vowed not to write any other novel until I’ve finished this trilogy. I will, though, have a new short story related to the series in this year’s Missing Pieces volume at Gen Con. (It features a minor character introduced in book 2.) I do have at least a soft goal of having the book ready by next year’s Gen Con, if for no other reason than that the short story I have planned for next year’s Missing Pieces will contain a major spoiler for the book. I will admit that a couple years ago, I wrote a mostly unrelated novella that was intended to be for an earlier volume of Missing Pieces, but after finding that it needed much more editing than I could reasonably accomplish within the time frame for the anthology, it has been entirely back-burnered. Aside from that, and despite my muse occasionally (*cough* since last weekend) giving me a massive burst of inspiration for some other story, I have not written anything else.

I have a working title for the book which might end up being the final title, but I don’t want to share it yet because I’m not 100% satisfied with it.

For those who have been waiting for the book, thank you for your patience and I apologize again for the lengthy wait. If there’s anything you want to know about the book or any hints you’d like to see to hold you over until it’s ready, please don’t hesitate to comment here or send me a message through my contact form.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at any of the Brain Lag events coming up this summer:

June 17: Brampton ComiCon – Brampton, ON
July 13-15: Ad Astra – Richmond Hill, ON
August 2-5: Gen Con – Indianapolis, IN
September 22: Forest City Comicon – London, ON

Words left behind October 16, 2017

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.

What am I? January 20, 2015

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I’ve written before about the many hobbies I dabble in, or have done before and would still like to do again (reading, drawing, sculpture, jewelry making, learning guitar, etc.). It was enough to inspire a fleeting wish that I could say, “this month I’m going to do nothing but read.” And yes, I have little doubt that I could focus on a different task for each month of this year.

Many of these hobbies have fallen by the wayside in the past few months, if not already in the past few years. Aside from accessories for my daughter’s Halloween costume, I haven’t touched my jewelry-making supplies in months. Likewise for the last console RPG I was playing, despite that I was almost at the end and spent at least half of 2014 working on it. Obviously, 2-dimensional art is still only a very occasional dabble, despite how important that remains to me. I know things will change when my daughter starts going to school next fall, but I am not raising my expectations too high about the difference that will make with my available time.

As for reading, while I would dearly love to get through the books on my to-read list and then some, not to mention the couple dozen samples and complete books I have downloaded on Kindle, my life is hardly without words. I read blog posts and webcomics on a daily basis, and I have been editing novel submissions. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s enough.

However, there is one hobby that stands out among all of these. One that holds more sway over me than any other, one that I just can’t go too long without doing, one that I miss if I try. One that defines me.

Writing.

Even after all these years, I’m still learning how important writing is to me. I’ve written here before about it, about how I feel unsure of my skill in just about every endeavour I have attempted but not with writing, about how my opinion changed from thinking about myself as an artist first and a writer second, and more.

But I still forget. I go without for a little while, maybe I spend some time focusing on a project in another medium, and I let writing slip to the back burner. At least, until my mind reminds me that I have to create, and if I don’t get back to work on the story I have been writing, I will spend my showers, mealtimes, or other quiet moments having imaginary arguments between fictional characters over the pros and cons of a completely made-up interstellar political system.

… I will neither confirm nor deny that this is the exact thing which inspired this post. The fact remains that I have to write. I can’t not write. Even if my family and my business take up most of my free time, even if I feel too burned out to want to do anything but veg when I do have time to do it, even if I’m struggling with a scene or am enamoured with some other form of expression or life just gets too busy, I have to find time to fit writing in somewhere.

Because I am a writer.

To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Do you ever want to destroy the world? June 17, 2014

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I love superhero movies. I love the excitement, the escapism, the larger-than-life-ness, the sheer drama of them. And I really love superhero movies in which rather than trying to bring a fictional world to life, they make it seem like it really happens in our world. To an extent, of course; I wouldn’t be a fan of superhero stories if I couldn’t suspend a little disbelief.

Another thing I like about superhero movies is that the stakes are always very high. Of course; that’s what makes it a superhero story. In a story like that, one can cause incalculable, irreparable, and frankly pretty improbable damage to civilization or the world itself. That’s what makes it so dramatic, especially if it happens in the very world we live in.

The stakes are always high in fiction. The conflict might not be – will the boy get the girl? – but the risk defines the story – she’s all he ever wanted throughout his high school years, even when she went out with that bullying jock. It’s not dramatic unless it has a big impact. But the scale of that impact varies enormously. Millions of lives could rest on the actions of the protagonists, or just the main character’s feelings.

I’ve never been very comfortable working on a grand scale. I suppose writing fantasy is a bit of a cop-out that way, since I am only affecting imaginary worlds. But even inside my own worlds, I generally prefer to avoid working with those in the most power – kings, lords, etc. The stakes are still high, often world-changing, but the characters who directly resolve the main conflict are generally people who have little or no other influence over the world.

I’m equally (or perhaps doubly) uncomfortable with impacting the real world. That’s why my novel Halcyon, which takes place on Earth, still occurs in an invented city. I don’t feel like I know enough about real places to set stories there, not even places I’ve lived for years. Perhaps if I was writing some kind of novelization of my own life, I might be able to, but the characters in my stories don’t live my life and therefore don’t necessarily or usually live or go to the same places.

This is the part where research should come in, but the fact is no amount of research will make me feel comfortable with writing things that happen on Earth. And trying to write stories that take place on Earth and involve people of power? Hold the phone.

But I read books that take place on Earth and I love how real they feel. They can change so much about the world, even change the course of history, but because it’s the place where we live it feels more believable. I’d like to try it sometime, but it’s going to take some working up to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my magic and dragons and just watch superhero movies.

Looking on the bright side May 27, 2014

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I tend to dwell on negative feedback. I know it is unhealthy, and I certainly don’t like it, but for some reason, I can’t set it aside easily. Maybe it is just me, or maybe it is part of the human condition. I am sure a lot can be said on this topic.

But that isn’t the point of this post. Sometimes, it’s nice just to focus on the positive.

I do get positive feedback on my writing, a bit more than negative, and occasionally, I get a comment that completely validates my efforts. I have been working on a short story for an anthology to be released at Gen Con this year – gamer folks, I hope to see you there! – and I sent it out to a few beta readers a week and a half ago.

One of the readers gave me excellent feedback, complimentary as well as critical. Among the comments was a basic description of each character in the story by the reader, as ascertained from the characters’ dialogue and actions in the text (exclusively, since I particularly tried to avoid “telling” in this piece). And it was bang on. Every description perfectly described the characters as I had developed them for this short, which tells me that I portrayed them exactly as I should have.

It might be a small thing and not a glowing review of the story, but for a writer, sometimes knowing that I put it on paper the way I envisioned it in my head means a lot more.

Character genesis: Domino April 17, 2014

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Where does a character come from?

For me, often the main character determines the story, and so comes before anything else. Beyond that, a character usually arises out of the role I need them to play in a story. I can’t find a place for them otherwise, and alas, that means that I’ve generally been unable to recycle characters from other story attempts. From there, I develop the character’s backstory, personality, and goals, and everything after that point is determined by the character as they come to life.

But that isn’t always the case.

There is an archetype of character – specifically, of protagonist – in genre fiction that I have seen done many times: the Mistake. This character is a repentant sinner; they did something in their past that they sorely regret, often killing or hurting someone close to them, and the main point of their character arc is to come to terms with the crime they committed. Up until the character does come to terms with it, they have various methods of coping with the shame they feel from that action, whether it’s drinking themselves to sleep every night, constantly punishing themselves symbolically, or general angstiness (or sometimes/often all three).

The one thing these characters all have in common is the Mistake: they are always somehow tricked or coerced into doing the shameful action.

Of course, it’s easy to build a character that way, or to want to build a character that way. People don’t want to believe a good guy is capable of intentionally doing something evil, and it’s awfully hard to sympathize with one who did. Whereas if the character had to do the evil deed to protect something/someone(s) else or believed they were doing the right thing, it becomes easier for a reader to understand their plight and want them to move on.

But it’s been done. A lot. I think there were four or five examples of this in a single video game I played.

So it got me thinking, what if the repentant sinner actually did something downright vile?

This was the thought process behind Domino, a character in Enduring Chaos.

Now, I am not saying he just went out and attacked innocent people unprovoked – he had his own, albeit twisted, reasons for what he did, and the people involved were certainly not saints. But Domino has blood on his hands. A lot of blood. And it is all on him. No one tried to force or trick him into doing it; the idea and the blame are entirely his. What he did was inexcusable, and no amount of good he could ever do will make up for that black stain on his soul and reputation.

So what is his coping mechanism with the sins of his past? I wanted to avoid angst for several reasons: it’s been overdone, it either ignites annoyance on the part of the reader or sympathy – which demeans the heinousness of his crimes – and more importantly in this particular case, with his set of semi-normal morals it would be impossible for him to live with that level of guilt.

Instead, I took a different route – detachment. He feels nothing, never shows emotion, and rarely speaks or even comes in contact with other people. He exists rather than lives, wandering through the wilds and hunting and gathering his own food, trading pelts or found food and materials for any supplies he needs, completely apart from other people and even his own past and self.

Does he regret what he did? Of course he does. As I said, he still holds a semi-normal set of morals. But with his view on the world, it has no impact on him, neither the regret nor the morals themselves. They are part of a canvas he sees from the outside.

Does that mean he hasn’t faced the shame he holds, somewhere in the part of his mind he has closed off? Yes, it does. But it doesn’t matter to him.

Will he eventually move beyond that detachment? … Well, you’ll have to read Enduring Chaos to find out.

But that was the genesis of Domino.

Being an artist and a mother April 7, 2014

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New parents live in the moment. The demands of such a tiny, fragile, and utterly dependent life form are so immediate and encompassing that there just isn’t an opportunity to think about the future. That’s why those early sleepless nights seem insurmountable – because it feels like there will never be anything other than that moment. That might be part of the reason post-partum depression hits so hard, along with inadequate sleep. I know it played a large part in my baby blues.

Of course, there is something to be said about the inspiration derived from the transformation of this helpless, squalling, troll-like armful into a sapient, problem-solving miniature human, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

This post is about time.

When I was pregnant, I tried to get as much done as I could, since I was pretty much giving up the idea of getting anything done until my daughter was going to school. I have always been far from even attempting to be supermom, but she only gets one chance to grow up and I wanted to do as best I could to help raise her to be a smart, disciplined, and loved little girl.

Consequently, I didn’t get much done. Sure, I managed some tasks – I completed and published Halcyon and, more recently, Enduring Chaos, and opened up Brain Lag for outside submissions – but plenty others fell by the wayside. Those five images I posted over the last month encompassed the entirety of completed (drawn) artwork I’ve put out since I gave birth to my daughter. Prior to the quilt square I decorated over a year ago now, I had done no art more advanced than a sketch since before she was born. Things like updating this blog and posting photographs of subjects not including my daughter dropped to occasional dabbles or ground to a halt. I chose to use what little free time I had to focus my efforts on writing and publishing, and I believe that was a wise choice.

2.75 years later, my daughter is well-behaved, getting much better at entertaining herself, and communicating her needs and wants (a very welcome development).

Does this mean I have more time to focus on my own things? No. Sure, I have naptime, and after she goes to bed I rarely have to do anything else with her. But then, that’s been the case for almost two years. And when she’s awake, despite that she can play by herself pretty well, I tend to get frustrated if I’m interrupted in a task/hobby I’m doing for myself, which is unfair to her. So I still have very limited time to do my own things.

But it’s not about how much time I have, is it? It’s about how I use the time I have. Budgeting time – that’s the key. And it’s not something I’ve been doing very well of late.

The problem is one that’s afflicted me for years: I dabble too much. I just enjoy playing around in too many different media and forms of entertainment, such as:

  • Art
    trapped damian-frozen
  • Photography
    dessert mew
  • Writing
    tumblr_static_writing450
  • Jewelry making
  • Learning guitar
    acoustic-guitar
  • Video games
    Arc-Rise-Fantasia_Wii_US_ESRB

And that’s just the hobbies I’ve dabbled with in the past month. That doesn’t include the ones I am still interested in playing with but haven’t tried in years, including various other media of 2D and 3D art, and those other things like “spend time with the family” and “six month old kitten.” This is why I refuse to attempt things like knitting or sewing: because I’m afraid I’ll enjoy it and it will be one more hobby clawing for my attention.

So how does one budget very limited free time among so many interests?

Well… the same way everybody else does, I suppose.

I’m not any worse off than anyone else with a day job or a child, and let’s face it, I’m a lot better off than many, given that I have only one child to handle and a well-behaved one at that. I guess the real issue is that I’ve never had to budget my time for my own pursuits before. I could just do whatever I felt like when the fancy struck me, evenings were longer and weekends meant something. I have much bigger obligations now than I used to, with a daughter to care for and a business to build.

But if I still want to do all these things that interest me, including those things I haven’t attempted in years like sumi-e paintings and sculpture, then I need to figure out a way to make it work.

How?

Well, only time will tell.

You have your entire life to write your first book, and six months to write your second September 2, 2013

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Someone told me that quote once. I don’t remember to whom it is attributed.  It is undoubtedly a comment on output, as one will quickly lose readers, as well as publishing contracts, if one does not continually produce more books.

To me, however, it is a matter of completion. When you are an unpublished author, you can spend forever editing and tweaking your manuscript. Once you have submitted it and it hits the presses, however, it is final. It cannot be altered any longer.

Any good writer will constantly improve. As a result, likely many look back at their earlier works and see things they would have done differently. That is, if they don’t revisit older work with revulsion.

I recently reread Halcyon, possibly for the first time since publication. While I still enjoy the story and even felt better about my writing after revisiting it, I now see some things that I would change if I had the opportunity. It is inevitable and I am discovering more and more that distance is the key to seeing a work with some measure of objectivity.

Enduring Chaos is very much distant from its origins. It has been fourteen years since I began writing the first draft of this story. Aside from the core concept of the story and some of the main characters – in name and appearance, anyway, and even those have changed somewhat – nothing is the same from that original draft. The current revision is not even very close to the original third draft, which is how I have, increasingly inaccurately, been referring to this revision.

The ultimate result of so much time passed and so many changes to the story is that I am more comfortable with altering this story, even parts of it I like. I might also be maturing as a writer, but I am not crediting myself that much yet.

What I find interesting is that as I start on my final edits to the story, I find myself more willing to accept corrections and make changes after only a couple months of letting it sit while I waited for feedback from beta readers.

It is the distance. Distance is important. Do not be in a hurry to get your fresh new novel out into the world. Take a step back, let it sit for at least a few months, perhaps even a year or more, and it will be easier to look upon the manuscript more like a potential investment than as one’s baby. And you want to be able to do that, because of course, every writer wants to put out the best novel one can create.

Because once a novel goes out into the world, it is complete, and anything you might notice later is impossible to change.