Mincemeat: on writing
  "Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what's wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."
Neil Gaiman

Working with an Editor

Hooray! Youíve sold your first book! Now what? In 99% of the cases, youíll be asked to rewrite. Usually, I get a 2-3 page letter from my editor detailing some big picture issues and a few smaller items. We talk by phone to clarify anything sheís written, and then I go to, taking anywhere from 1-3 months to get the job done. She reads the rewrite, sends me another letter, and we do the tango all over again, 3-5 times before it sees print. When youíre in this situation, remember: Editors Are Good. Theyíre here to make you look good, to make your book a little shinier and everything happy sparkly goodness. Donít kick against the pricks. The temptation to fight and/or flee tickles all of us as we read that editor letter with a plummeting stomach. I take a day, eventually see her point, and each rewrite is leagues the better for it. Ho there, I hear a rumble of protests! Here are some thoughts that may help you get past them.

"She didnít get what I was trying to do!"

Thatís right, she didnít. Which means, you didnít do it right. Look closely at what youíre struggling to accomplish and try it again, in a different way. Often, she misunderstood what youíre attempting because though it was crystal clear to you, you didnít communicate it clearly in your writing. Write it super-clear then let her see it again, that may solve it. Still not working? Then you may need a story change after all.

Eg. My editor told me that the end of enna burning wasnít clear and she suggested that I change it in a certain way. I asked my sisters who had read the early manuscript, "Did you get what was going on?" "Oh, yeah, totally," they said. If they got it, then wasnít it fine as is? I wheezed, I quibbled, I scratched. In the end, I decided that I really wanted to keep the climax essentially the way it was, so instead of changing it the way she suggested, I completely rewrote it and over-explained my original idea. My editor was happy with it, and I was able to trim the over-explanation a bit and still have it understandable. After it was published my sisters read it again and said, "Did you rewrite the ending? It was so much clearer to me this time." Ah-ha! My editor was right!

"I have no idea how to make that work better."

Let her comments soak in. Muse, ponder, pray. Find someone who is a good sounding board. If youíre still stumped after a few days, call her back and ask her for more clarity. A good editor would/could never tell you exactly what to do, but she may have more insight that will help. Sometimes, it helps me just to get back into the rewrite and the way becomes clear as Iím working.

"But people are really like that! How can she say the character didnít make sense when I know people who do that in real life?"

A novel is not real life. Characters precisely modeled after real people rarely work. Real people are complex and unpredictable, and on paper seem to have multiple personalities. Again, if she made the comment, then the way you wrote it didnít make sense to her, and something needs to be changed.

"I like it that way. I donít want to change it."

OK, thatís legitimate. Youíre the creator of this work and most editors will respect that. But donít be too hasty to ignore what sheís said. If she felt that way, other readers will, too. Talk to her, make sure you understand what sheís disagreeing with. (NOTE: Avoid falling into the trap of just telling her what you were trying to do. That wonít solve the problem. You wonít be able to explain it to every reader. Instead, listen to her and solve it on your own.) If after thought and talk, you still feel strongly about keeping the choice you made, let her know. Working together, you may have an idea of how to solve the problem without killing your darling.

Warning: Not all editors are created equal. Some stink. I have, joyfully, never had this experience, but it is true. The above "believe Ďem till it hurts" advice applies to the professional editors of my experience. If youíve been in a writing workshop, youíll notice that some of the feedback you get is great, some confusing, and some laughable. In workshops, use your smarts to figure out what advice to take and what to leave in the drainage ditch.




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