In January, I hired a developmental editor, Tessa Shapcott, to help me with my first book, A Man of Character. Generally speaking, I (and others) had been happy with the book, but I knew that to “do it right” as an indie publisher, I needed an editor’s opinion.
She gave me one. She gave me several. She gave me nearly four pages’ worth of suggestions. And they were spot on. Tessa is fabulous, people. But all those pages of suggestions meant I needed to restructure my book – move some elements to the front, delete others, add scenes, pay attention to emotional development.
I won’t lie. I wanted to bury my head in the sand. I even asked Tessa if she felt the book were worth salvaging (luckily for me, she most emphatically said YES).
So instead pulling my standard ostrich move, I got to work. It took me longer than I wanted (pesky Other Life responsibilities, plus my standard Time Managing Idiocy), but I finished that sucker, read through it again several times, made more corrections, and sent it off to Tessa for a second read-through.
Green light. WOO HOO! She liked it, felt the revisions worked well, and had just a few minor suggestions. I know there’s additional work to do after those revisions, since the next step is a line edit, but still, I was feeling on top of the world.
Last night, I was in the hot seat for my beloved critique group. A Man of Character in its newly revised form was up for review. And the critiquers did exactly what they were supposed to do, exactly what I want them to do: they critiqued it, meaning they found favor and fault in it. Lots of fault, depending on whom you asked.
I know that I have a long way to go in developing the thick skin writers need. I know that writing is rewriting. Writing is revision. And being a relative newbie to the fiction writing world, I have a lot to learn. In my head, I know all of that, accept all of that. In my head, I want to learn, learn, learn, to find out what works and what doesn’t, to grow and become better.
In my heart, I feel pain when someone challenges my baby, even when the challenges are justified, and would only lead to improving the book. In my heart (and head), I also know now it’s my turn to critique the critiques, by taking what I like and leaving the rest. And I will. I will. Just not today. Today, I’m not touching it.
It’s a roller coaster, this writing thing. It’s the highest of highs when you feel you’ve nailed that scene or that dialogue, when a beta reader tells you she loves the story, when you get positive feedback from fellow writers.
And it’s the lowest of lows, the days where you stare at the words and think they’re crap, when you get rejection after rejection from agents, when you open up your document returned to you from a critiquer and all you see are pages full of comments.
Some days I want to get off. Some days I want to ride forever.
They tell you your writing is not you. Don’t take it personally.
Does that ability come easier the longer one pursues this profession? I hope so.
In the meantime, I’m taking today to work on reading and reviewing other people’s writing. But I’ll be back at A Man of Character tomorrow. Because, warts and all, my baby is entering the world on May 26, 2015. And I’m excited.
How do you deal with the ups and downs?
Just be careful if the critique group’s suggestions contradict the developmental editor’s. Heed the professional’s opinion before you do extensive rewriting based on a critique group. It sounds like the editor did a thorough and impressive job, so I’d put my eggs in that basket. (Belated Easter pun) 😉
That’s my plan, although I’ll scan the critique group’s suggestions to see if any bear fruit. They picked up on a few issues I’m sure a line edit will also catch, so that’s where I intend to focus most.
“Some days I want to get off. Some days I want to ride forever.” I can relate. Last week was a “wanting to get off week” for me. But my husband tells me I can do it so I trudge on hoping next week I’ll want to ride forever again.
I’m glad you’ve decided to get MoC out there. The world needs it. 🙂
Thanks so much, Foy. I appreciate your support. And while the whiplash can be wearing, at least we’re riding together!
Oh, you describe that SO WELL. That is PRECISELY how I felt the first years of running Cranberry’s; every time a customer or staffer offered a criticism I would cringe inside, even though they often had good points to make. Cranberry’s was my baby! I worked very hard to not let my cringing show so that I could stay open to really hearing what they were saying, and I learned most of the criticism was because they cared about Cranberry’s, not because they thought it sucked. (The occasional person with an extreme criticism always turned out to be someone with a personal agenda.) Once I realized that, it became much easier. I’m living proof it is possible to develop a tough-enough skin even if you weren’t born with one. Carry on, Margaret!!
Thanks, mom! That helps a lot – although I kind of wish I could skip ahead to the thick-skinned stage!
Great article, Margaret. I feel your pain. I had my ms developmentally edited and beta read and wound up doing a rewrite too. Now that’s it’s rewritten, I can see it was well worth the pain and suffering. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do as a new writer: rewrite a story. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Good luck! 🙂
Hi Sheila – Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. I do think rearranging my story made it much stronger; I just wish I could have seen the gaping holes for myself. But I guess that’s why we need those editors, critique groups, and beta readers – to help us figure out how to improve. Here’s hoping as I keep on keeping on that the rewrites will be less intense. Or, if not, that I will grow to love the editing stage as much as the creative stage.
I’m not gonna lie to you, Margaret. Your skin may always be as paper thin as when you brought your roughest ramblings in for their first critique. What changes is this: As you move forward in your writing journey you will begin to build a protective army of friends and fans. They are not there to tell you lies about your work; they are there to keep you on a straight path. They are your fabulous new editor and your CP’s. Those who can tell you when you’re about to stumble off into the thickets where the trolls live so you can right yourself, smile and thank them, again, for sticking by you. Your ability to ‘feel’ is part of what makes you a successful writer. Your empathy is what helps you relate to your characters. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s human. Just choose your friends wisely. 😉
Great advice, Cheri! And I’m pleased that I have met so many other wonderful writers (and editors and friends) who truly DO want what’s best for the writing – even if it’s painful for the writer to hear it. I don’t undervalue that at all; I know I’m lucky to be in the circle which I have found. I love what you said about empathy and being sensitive, and how those are strengths for a writer. I’ll take it!