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I ♥ My Editor

Wow. As they say in Japanese, おひさしぶりですね (ohisashiburi desu, ne). In other words, it’s been quite a while since I last posted.

Sadly, much of it is because I still get tired really easily, and sitting for long periods (more than an hour or so) makes my back ache. That’s not really conducive to the writing process, especially when I still have squirts at home on summer break from school to interrupt what time I do manage in front of my keyboard. (That, and the Internet, but shut up.)

Yesterday, more than two weeks after I last engaged with my dryads, I sat down to look over my three-part short story. The first two parts were created as “prequels” to the novel—a way to explore important aspects of the dryad culture I was trying to build before I needed to use them in my main story. The third came from a later idea, but together I think they explain a great deal about these particular characters.

I’ve had hopes of submitting this story to various magazines for possible publication (after all, it’s about time I start racking up rejections). So when I sat down with this draft again, it was for my next round of polishing. The big new twist for me, though, is that for the first time, I’ve had a professional editor evaluate my work, and give me her recommendations for improvement.

Let me just get this out of my system: I ♥ my editor.

Now there’s no denying I’m a n00b at this whole fiction scene, and at writing for publication in general. It seems to me, though, that one of the most important professional relationships a writer can foster is with their editor. If you don’t find someone who “gets” your work, and can find a way to pull your best out of you—improve what you’ve done, point out repetitive or erroneous tendencies, stretch your potential—then you’re not going to grow as a writer, or even get very far with any single piece of work.

That’s why I’m so thrilled I’ve found my editor. My Editor. I feel like she deserves capitalization, at least. I love her insights into clearer phrasing, better metaphor, stronger story—all while preserving my tender little artist’s ego (and I’ll readily admit how thin-skinned I am about these things). Yet she also doesn’t pull her punches.

She was straight up with me, letting me know that as it stands, this story probably doesn’t have a place in the current market. It’s too… nice. There’s lots of worldbuilding, and atmosphere, and character and such, but there’s no peril. No drama. No tension. If I actually want to draw a reader in, I need to make them anxious enough to learn the outcome of some particular conflict that they keep reading. That’s basic stuff, but I wasn’t doing it here.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing news; I’d wanted to submit, and get this story published. On the other, I may be okay with it; my original purpose was to get my own head around the particulars of certain life-changing moments for dryads in the world I was creating, and I’ve done that. Maybe I don’t need to put that out where the rest of the world can see it, especially if it’s not gripping.

Whatever direction I end up taking the story—rewriting it to add that key tension, or just polishing it to the best prose it can be as-is—my Editor has taught me some important things about myself. Foremost, I think, is the following:

  • I’m already quite a good writer.
  • I am not yet a very good storyteller.

That’s a pretty vital distinction, and one I’m glad to have learned. After all, the first step to solving any problem is identifying it. So next up: tackle that storytelling thing!

Writing Is Not Easy

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing is easy. It’s not. Sure, anyone can put something down on the page and come up with some sort of story, but some vast majority of the time, it’s utter crap. A Writer recognizes that the first dross vomited onto that page is always going to be utter schlock, and endeavors to make it less schlock-y.

Okay—maybe not all of it is schlock; there’s usually the nugget (possibly more than a nugget) of something good there, but a first draft is inevitably flawed, sometimes disastrously so. This, then, is where real writing comes into play. Writing is not the creative burst of ideas flowing forth like some sort of divine nectar; no one’s novel enters the world like Athena. It is with good reason the analogy is so frequently drawn between birth and the creative process.

My latest chapter is demonstrating all these truisms. When I gave it to my critique partners (CPs), I really thought there were maybe only one or two paragraphs that were suspect, and likely to be pounced on by my ever-vigilant friends. To my dismay, my inability to interpret the plot from outside my own head has—once again—come back to bite me in the ass.

But that’s why I love my CPs; they don’t pull any punches. They show me what works, and then turn around and tell me where I don’t even have a plot yet. They provide me with polarized schlock-glasses that cut out the glare of the pretty words I like so much and expose the remaining image for what it is: incomplete, vague, undisciplined.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing is easy. It’s not. To do it right, to make something that someone else will appreciate and enjoy takes skill; blood, sweat, and tears; and a boatload of perseverance. It takes a damn lot of practice, a commitment to constant improvement, and the ruthlessness to cut vast swathes of carefully crafted text from a manuscript with extreme prejudice when they simply don’t serve the story. A Writer keeps at it until they have something that is 98% schlock-free that they are proud to share with anyone who cares to read.

Some day I want to be a Writer.

Critique Partners

I’ve been writing for a very long time, but I’m still really new to fiction. I can’t even express how wonderful it has been to have found some kick-ass critique partners (CPs).

I met my CPs when we were all taking a writing class together. The best part of the whole course, as far as I was concerned, was when we had the chance to read a piece of our work and get feedback from our classmates. Luckily, there were other fantasy writers in the class, and a couple of them were willing and able to form our own little CP group after the class ended.

My CPs have been an absolute blessing. Not only do they see my work from outside my own head (extremely important) and tell me when I haven’t shared on the page something else that’s buried in there (also important) or when I’m just not making sense in terms of either plot or character (vitally important), but they also share their works in progress. It’s awesome! I get to read engaging stories that don’t exist in the wild yet!

Through our workshopping, I get better at critiquing my own work, too, so it’s more polished before it even makes it to them. It’s win/win, and no matter how long we spend in a session, I always come out feeling revitalized and eager to get back to my own story.

What greater gift could anyone give a writer?