Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time as the Healer of All Slights

This week, my biggest writing task is to work my way through the second round of edits for my upcoming short story collection.

Thank you. Your waves of sympathy are greatly appreciated.

On my first slog through the edits, I found the experience easy in some places (as if) and horrifically painful (more like it) in others. I asked myself many of the typical insulted-writer questions:

How could the editor so totally miss the point of my story?

They didn't miss the point. They were simply making a note of a particular aspect that wasn't as clear as it could be in the story since it didn't make the entire journey from my head to the page.

Of course that character did "X"! What else could they have possibly done under the circumstances?

Plenty, apparently. Perhaps the reason the editor was thrown from the story is because the gut reaction of my character wasn't gutsy at all, more like totally out in left field.

This suggestion isn't a copy edit! There's no way I'm changing the voice of the story. It will be completely ruined if I do. Right?

Not exactly. Because even though this edit feels like the most egregious edit of all freaking time today, on second (or tenth?) pass it actually is a tiny fraction of a good idea. Sort of. I guess.

This story was published (some more than once) or critiqued already. Many, many eyes have smoothed it over, so I'm certain it's perfect. Why mess with a good thing?

Because even a good thing can be a little better. Kind of like a dapper suit on a handsome man. He's gorgeous even when he first wakes in his flannel PJs, but put him in a Hugo Boss tuxedo and wowie! Hold the phone!

I've read this story out loud for many audiences. If I change it, won't they be disappointed, or claim that it isn't the same story at all?

Alienating your audience/fans is a legitimate concern. But chances are if I make the story better, then my readers will be happier. They might even send me fan mail, telling me how amazing I am and how much I've grown as a writer.

Yeah, I know, wake up Suzanne. You're dreaming!

Better is the key word to keep in mind. Everyone, from the publisher to the copy editor, to you, the writer, wants to put out the best possible product. The old adage is true--that's why it's endured: practice makes perfect.

The first time I worked through the edits, I experienced nausea, stress, frustration, incredulity, and a whole host of emotions. Just ask any of my writer friends because I think they all heard one (or more) of my many rants during the process.

But I took my time. I pondered. I changed passages, reverted them back, then changed them again. This process is completely normal.

The process of a successful edit takes time.

Lots of time.

Time is your friend. If you're working your way through a major edit, don't rush the process.

Sometimes shelving a work-in-process for a while will give you:
- fresh eyes
- perspective
- ideas you wouldn't have though of on first (or fourth) pass.

So give your project the time and consideration it deserves. And make sure you complain to your friends and not your editor, because you don't want to be labelled as difficult to work with.

Oh, and make sure you wait a couple of days and read over all your comments and edits one final time before you email the file back.

Because it's harder to take words back than to swallow your tongue.

Do it now
If you've been working on a project you're sick of, save it and leave it for a week. (If at all possible.)

Say out loud, "We're all trying to make the story better." Oh, and mean it.

Apologize to those of your friends you've been ranting to over the last while.

Okay, people, this is my official apology. I've been a pain. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

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