The Editing, Opening-the-Kimono Thing Again
Following yesterday’s post, I was having a conversation with someone about the importance of having our work edited and the various reasons why writers remain hesitant to seek input. For me, that hesitation existed in spades years ago, before I grew my sea legs as a writer. That’s when I was still trying to make myself believe that I had somehow been miraculously born with everything I needed to know about writing novels already embedded in the creative side of my brain.
I remember one editor I’d queried directly (at a major New York publishing house, something you could still do in those days), who actually asked to see the entire manuscript of my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon. I believe there was a dust cloud behind my car as I raced directly to the closest Federal Express office. After spending all that money to overnight the manuscript, I waited a couple of months to hear back from her. Then she called me (!), giving me a valuable few minutes of her time over the phone, a gesture I absolutely did not appreciate as I should have. (I’d be groveling all over the floor if something like that happened today!)
At any rate, during that call, she said something like, “Your first draft of The Truth About Cinnamon isn’t a bad outline for starters.” And then she proceeded to give me a list of things that she thought needed to be changed/added/deleted/thrown into oblivion, if I wanted her to consider taking on the book. She was truly offering me a gift of immeasurable proportions. But, of course, I thought the manuscript was completely finished and ready for a multi-million dollar distribution–and, of course, I thought the editor was nuts, out of touch, off base, and you know the rest of the litany. Ah, the lament! If I had only listened to her, I would have certainly saved myself years of wasted time and effort. And hers is only one example of advice I foolishly turned away in those early days.
Instead of having the effect she’d intended, however, that editor’s input only caused me to pull inward for a long time, avoiding any further possibilities of having someone else tell me that what I’d written wasn’t very good. (Never mind the fact that she never said my work wasn’t good. On the contrary, she was trying to tell me that I might have a shot. But I wasn’t paying attention or hearing her at all.)
Hey! What if I’d let a professional editor into my writing world before I’d even begun querying—especially before I’d begun querying? Who knows what would have happened, because here’s one unavoidable truth we all need to keep in mind: No matter what we attempt to do in life, we learn how to inprove ourselves and our craft/sport/art/business by playing with people who are better and more accomplished than we are. And no matter how good we become, there will always be people who are better than we are. For aspiring authors, those “people” are editors.
Believe me when I say that I remain fearful to this day of hearing anyone tell me that something I’ve labored to write needs a lot of work. But now the years have instilled in me the confidence that I can actually fix problems, once I’ve given people permission to point issues out to me. That entire process is intended to make the writing/story better, not to make me (or any writer) feel bad.
The person with whom I was speaking yesterday after my post was published said that, in addition to the editing thing, a lot of writers are also fearful of sharing their work because they think their idea(s) might be stolen. That particular reason hadn’t occurred to me, but my conversation with him was freshly on my mind this morning when Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest posted this link in her “Best Of Tweets for Writers” list from last week: http://jasonlbaptiste.com/startups/they-will-steal-your-idea-they-cannot-steal-what-really-matters/. The article centers more on techical writing and development than on fiction, although the concept is still totally applicable. Aside from the fact that legitimate editors are not in the business of stealing writers’ work, even if they did decide to co-opt an idea for a novel, there’s no way anyone could steal the author’s planned implementation for that novel, the essence of all the characters, the plot twists that exist only in the author’s head, and so forth.
Basically, in the end, there isn’t any legitimate reason for avoiding a professional edit of our work—or for releasing our work into the hands of beta readers–and there are plenty of reasons for submitting our work to such scrutiny. Removing all the excuses for not having our work placed under a microscope is the goal—my goal–and hopefully the link and the additional thoughts shared in this post will be further steps in that direction.
We need to believe in ourselves, but not exclusively in ourselves! So let “the people” in. 🙂