Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Punch The Editor (Tara Kelly)

I'm pretty short on time this month, so I thought I'd share with you all a post I made on my editing site. As writers, I think it's important to remember that our books are NOT who we are. We are so much more than a single book or a mistake...or a bad character :)

It’s easy to get mad at the editor. After all, they just don’t get it. Did they even READ that chapter? Was it necessary to use that much red ink? Maybe they’re bitter. Or jealous. Yeah, that’s it. They secretly hate me, and they are passive aggressively telling me through their comments on my manuscript.

Let’s face it, writers. We can get mighty protective of our books. And for good reason. There have been times when I wanted to throw my manuscript across the room (if it wasn’t a file on my computer) after reading an editorial comment. After all, we spend an ungodly amount of time writing the story. We spend countless hours rewriting and reworking. Dissecting every line. Every word. Making sure the writing flows. Our plot has to be compelling, and it has to make sense–but it can’t be predictable! Our characters need to be larger than life; their motivations have to make sense. And they can’t sigh more than three times in 300 pages! I know by the time I hit send, I am DONE. And then I usually collapse and go ba-ba-ba at the wall.

So naturally I’m going to glare at my screen when I get notes from a well-meaning critique partner or my agent or my editor. The first read is always the most overwhelming. My initial thoughts are usually…oh my god, they hate it. They want me to change WHAT?? My main character is annoying? No, they aren’t! What do they mean they want MORE? More what?? And what’s this about pacing? God, if I hear the word pacing one more time, I’m gonna….@#@$@#%%!!!!!! That’s it. This book sucks. I quit. I’m going to delete my manuscript. But first I’m going to tell this person how WRONG I think they are! *ferociously types email*

When they say not to react or respond as soon as you get an editorial letter, they know what they’re talking about, okay? Without fail, I calm down after mulling things over for a couple days. I start thinking things like…wait, they have a point here. My main character IS really whiny in this scene. And do I really need to describe the MC’s homework for ten pages? Did I seriously mention the love interest’s eyes on every other page? How could I miss that???

I might be an editor, but I don’t trust myself to edit my own work. I’m great at being hard on myself, and I do the best I can to be objective, but I am always emotionally invested. There is always going to be something I miss…or don’t want to see.

I can’t speak for all editors, but I can speak for myself…and I’m betting a lot of editors will agree with me. I look at every book as a challenge–how can I help make this the best story it can be? The author isn’t even in the equation for me in that there is NOTHING personal about my commentary. I’m not sitting there thinking hmm…how can I piss this author off? I’m not encoding little ‘you suck’ messages in the track changes. My focus is 100% on the story and all of its components–and how those components work together. It’s a very analytical–almost clinical–state of mind I find myself in. Because, quite frankly, emotions will only get in the way. While I always strive to be constructive and tactful, I can’t worry about what the author might think. After all, I’m not their friend or their mom. They are paying me for a reason–they want to make their story better (even if they secretly wish I’d tell them it’s perfect–which will NEVER happen ahem). I spend a great deal of time organizing my thoughts, and I don’t make comments that I’m not 100% behind. Some stories need more comments than others, but–again–it has NOTHING to do with the author or their worth as a writer.

Anyway, my point is…next time you get editorial comments on your manuscript, at least wait a couple days to punch your editor. Unless the comments are downright mean or critical of you as a person, chances are they were meant in helpful way. And in a couple days–after you’ve simmered down–you’ll be glad you had the help. In fact…think of an editor as the person who tells you your fly is unzipped BEFORE you go out into public.

Hey, the analogy works for me. *shrug*

3 comments:

  1. I'm getting edits on my next book any day now so this is really timely! I do miss having actual manuscripts to throw at the wall - too much at stake to do it with a laptop.

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  2. This is so brilliant, and so true. I never think about the author when I'm editing because (hopefully) I'm too drawn into the story. Also, treating your editor, critique partner, etc. fairly and abstaining from violence (physical or otherwise) results in people who trust you to take constructive criticism well. In the end - you have better critiques and a better story if you keep cool and learn from their suggestions.

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  3. Great advice, Tara! Years ago I attended the SCBWI midyear conference in NYC and was fortunate to hear Karen Cushman and her editor talk about their work process. The editor (sorry to say I have forgotten her name) said that she was astonished when Catherine, Called Birdie came across her desk. She bought it immediately and then was hardly able to change a single word. The book was that "perfect." Then Karen described how different her experience was with her second book which came back heavily red-lined. Karen couldn't understand and was furious, so she marched into the kitchen and broke a few plates. Then she realized that she hadn't been able to put the time (years?) into perfecting her second book as she had in her first, and after that she came to expect the same pattern for book after book: redlines, fury, broken dishes, then calm.

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