With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, there are a lot of people out there gearing up for marathon writing sessions to reach that 50,000 word mark. For those unfamiliar with the event, the challenge is to write a novel in a month with minimal edits and rewrites. You just type like crazy, and then you go back to make it all look nice. It’s a useful event to get writers going (because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier to procrastinate and put off the finish in favor of tinkering with one particular chapter). But it doesn’t make for good quality writing. At least not on its own. Sooner or later, you will have to face the dreaded edits. So let’s talk about those…
Every writer should know the secret to great writing: rewriting. But no matter how much you scrap and replace, it’s still you choosing to do it, based on whatever guidelines you follow. Beta readers are just that: readers. They give you opinions from the perspective of a story receiver. Critique partners are people in the same boat as you. They don’t know any better than you, they only look at things from a different angle. Feedback from them might sting, but you can easily tell yourself, “It’s just their opinion. I know my story better than them, and I know I’m right.”
Editing is a whole nother animal. It is the process of putting your baby in the hands of a professional and having to trust they know what they’re doing. Editors edit. It’s what they do. It’s what they’d been doing for years. They’ve seen, corrected, and improved dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of books in many different genres. If an editor tells you something doesn’t work, it’s not that easy to dismiss anymore. Which, if you’re not mentally and emotionally prepared for it, will sting like hell.
Here’s the best way I know to deal with it
(the squeamish should look away)
Deal with it. It’s not personal. Your editor (if they’re good) isn’t trying to beat down your ego, they’re trying to make your story the best it can possibly be. You don’t have to accept every suggestion, but you should at least consider it. Writing is an act of creation. It’s magic, in that you make something that has never existed before, and that’s fantastic. But at some point, that moment ends, and you have to be able to switch hats, and distance yourself enough to see your story as its own entity and no longer a part of you. Don’t freak out when you see a million comments and corrections on the first page–they’re not a reflection of you as a person, or proof that you suck as a writer. Be objective enough to see what works and what doesn’t. Just like rewriting, this is part of the process.
And here’s how I walk the talk
(because I’m not a total hypocrite asswad)
My writing process doesn’t lend itself to quick drafts. I scrutinize every paragraph before moving on. If a chapter doesn’t work, I have to fix it before I can write the next. This means I am constantly going back to the beginning and making revisions as I go along, so my first finished draft is usually version 8-12 of the story as a whole. When it’s finished, I do two rounds of self-edits on paper. I bleed that thing dry. I run out of space in the margins for my notes and rewrites, and have to use sticky notes and pray they don’t fall out before I can transcribe.
Only after I’ve done all this do I submit the manuscript to an editor. Now, I will admit, I am not the most patient person, so while my editor is working, I am pacing at home, tapping my foot, biting my nails, and doing everything humanly possible to distract myself.
You do what you do to stay sane.
Or not…Whichever the case may be…
But when I get the edits back, I approach them the same way I do my own: mechanically. I know myself to be hopeless with punctuation. English being my second language, my rules for where a comma should go are completely different, and I follow them subconsciously because I can’t seem to get a straight answer besides, “If there is a pause, there should be a comma.” That alone makes every single page look red with corrections. I accept those without even looking. I trust my editor to know better than me.
Word choices and sentence rewrites require a little more concentration. I’ll read the sentence, and if it sounds better the editor’s way, I accept. If not, I either reject the suggestion or rewrite the sentence a brand new way. There will always be key phrases or sentiments that will be integral to the story, the ones that speak to me as the creator, and I will defend those to my dying breath if I have to. But a random sentence in a random chapter? Pfft. Moving on.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Don’t fold on the big stuff, either.
Content. That’s the big one. My rule of thumb is, if a reader finishes my story, and is still left asking why, or why not, I haven’t done my job. So when an editor tells me, “I don’t get why he/she would do this…” or “I don’t understand what’s going on in this part…” I’d be an idiot not to give it some serious thought. There’s a difference between preserving an air of mystery, and missing an important plot or character point. learn to tell the difference, or at the very least listen to those who point it out.
Formatting can be another big one, if you’re doing something unconventional in your book (like I am doing in Wolfen). Some things work. Some make people go, “Oh, my God! This is so amazingly original!” and some leave readers confused, lost, and disinterested. Even if the general idea works, individual instances of it can still be up for debate. My advice: Debate. Talk it out with your editor, see if you can explain why you did what you did, or if you can concede their point. Maybe there is some middle ground you can explore. But ultimately, if the general idea works, then you as the creator should follow your gut on those instances. If it doesn’t work, alas, you may need to rethink your strategy.
The most important thing is
not to rush the process.
A lot of people do this, especially with their first creations. They’ll finish the first draft and start submitting left and right the next day (I’ve done this, and failed). They’ll finish the draft and go straight to the beginning again to edit without letting it breathe first (I’ve done this, and missed a whole lot of errors). They’ll take their time with writing and rewriting, but then rush through the first round of edits, blindly accepting every change just to get things published (I don’t know why people would do this, but they do… way to drop the ball…).
Art. Takes. Time.
If you respect your work and take your time with each consecutive step leading up to edits, then there is absolutely no reason why those edits should be painful. None whatsoever. And I will keep saying that until the day I die.
By the way, in case you were wondering…
(yes, this post does have practical implications)
Edits for Wolfen are going splendidly. I am almost finished with the first 100 pages (of roughly 400) and so far everything in the comments and corrections are minor issues and stylistic choices. I am being as thorough as I can, so this will take time, but I should be able to give you a solid release date very soon.
Stay tuned for updates!