Friday, February 27, 2015

CRITIQUES AND EDITS—GETTING YOU AND YOUR STORY ON THE RIGHT TRACK



Sometimes in life the only thing you can control is your attitude.




It wasn’t until I started reading contest chapters that I realized the value of editing—both for spelling/grammar and content. I also learned quite a bit about creative writing for today’s market by reading others critiques of the same chapters. That was an eye-opener. I used what I’d learned to go back and write another draft of my story. But I still didn’t quite understand all the nuances of drafts and editing and certainly didn’t understand many of the terms used and what they meant for my manuscript.

I’ve written nonfiction for years and most of it professionally. I was used to editors shredding and cutting sections and picking apart word choices to make the piece tighter and have more impact. I’m not going to tell you I enjoyed the editing process because I didn’t. There were times I grumbled and mumbled profanities. But I did develop a thick skin to the process over the years.

I hadn’t dealt with editing of my creative writing. The purpose of edits is the same in both nonfiction and fiction. The focus and some of the terminology is different, of course, but rationale is to make the piece tighter and have more impact.  It’s one thing to realize that on the intellectual and a whole other thing to deal with on an emotional level. Creative writing, in my opinion, is a little more personal and for me a bit more of my emotional soul goes into my writing. I quickly realized I needed a change of attitude and rhino skin to handle edits, critiques, and rejections.

See, the whole purpose of having experienced writers and critique partners is for them to read the piece critically. Their job is to spot the problems. That’s what you’re asking for, not to tell you how brilliant you are—leave that to your mom.

The first time I did this; there was so much red ink I thought my manuscript was going to bleed to death. I can laugh about it now but at the time my heart dropped to my feet and I thought, oh my god, she thinks it’s horrible—and that was before I actually read her preface and comments (my eyes were too busy taking in all the red notations). In the preface she told me the story premise was great and there were many good parts but these things (the ones in bright red) needed some work.

Your job, as a writer in asking for a critique, is to be prepared to listen without getting your feelings hurt. Not always easy and an attitude adjustment may be necessary.

You don’t have to agree with everything said (and probably won’t) but you do need to at least consider the comments and suggestions—especially if several readers hit on the same point or area. The second part of your job is to fix those problems listed. Rewrite, repair, and smooth those issues in your voice and in keeping with your vision.

A thing to keep in mind:  Published books have been reworked multiple times. That means scenes have been rewritten, moved, abandoned, rewritten again, and abandoned again.  

That’s why they read smooth. If you saw the first draft of that story and compared it to the finished draft it would be, in some instances, like comparing night and day.

If you can’t take critiques now, you’re going to have major issues with professional editors. It’s not personal. This is the business of making your story the best it can be. For example, your agent may edit and suggest reworks and/or the agency’s creative editor may take a couple of passes prior to selling the final draft to a publisher. Even then, it might not be the final draft because the publishing house editors and sometimes more than one (like developmental and content editor and copy-editor) will vet the manuscript. You may have still more pages of reworks and suggestions to make the story tighter and better before it’s published. You have to have tough skin and a professional attitude.

I’ve learned that critique partners are a great training ground in getting you and your story on the right track to the finished product.

11 comments:

Jeff Hargett said...

I consider myself fortunate in the thick skin regard. I really do like an unbiased, critical edit/critique on my work--what does work and what doesn't. They have taught me so much. Active voice, sentence structure, incorporating all five senses, etc. A well-placed revision suggestion on something we've actually written ourselves is worth ten how-to articles.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It is all a business. Yes it's difficult to leave our egos out of it, but we have to remember the point of edits is to make the story better so it will sell better.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I tend to agree with most of what my test readers and critique partners suggest. It doesn't stress me to see the red. And it never stresses me to send it out. Don't know why...

Patricia Stoltey said...

This is so true! I have a topnotch critique group (7 members total) that doesn't hesitate to tell it the way they see it. And my editor is tough! I've learned more from her than from any writing class I ever took.

~Sia McKye~ said...

JEFF, I have thick skin now. I do want honest opinions. My CPs go with the philosohy, most of it's good but here are the problems. I've learned a lot about structure and pacing from them.

DIANE--exactly. It's business and I put my ego in a box and put and hide it in a closet, lol!

ALEX--it only stressed me out the first time. I'm fine now and I don't have a problem letting them see what I've written. I expect the red now. :-)

PATRICIA--me, too. My group is top notch as well and have several books under their belt. They tell it like it is and isn't that great?

Michelle Wallace said...

When reading a fabulous story that just flows, the farthest thing from my mind is the fact of how many times these wonderful scenes have been "rewritten, moved, abandoned, rewritten again, and abandoned again..."
They always say that writing is not for the faint-hearted.

At the rate I'm going, I'll be close on 100 years old when I finally publish,(LOL) so that leaves enough time to develop that tough hide. Like the story, the tough hide is a work-in-progress...

Peaches D. Ledwidge said...

Well done.
Critique- Thick skin required, but great editors, I find, provide great critques without making the writer feel as though the work is trash. I have had some wonderful editors.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The very first time I received chapters back from my first critique partner, it was as you said. More red ink than black. But I learned quickly and stopped making the same mistakes over and over again. Editing for content is what I need the tough skin for. You really have to trust that your editor will make it a better book because it hurts to cut scenes that you thought important.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

My first manuscript came back from the editor looking like it had typhoid fever (everything was highlighted in yellow). I almost cried.

Now, I want a nit picky beta/ edit because I realize it's better to here the flaws in private from a friend than read it in the reviews.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

When I am asked to do a critique for someone, I usually spend hours and hours of my time on it. I want to give honest, useful feedback -- and if something is not working, I want to explain why in a tactful and gentle manner and suggest solutions. (Only the author can truly find the right solution, but by suggesting some, I want to make sure they understand the problem is fixable -- and not to give up.)

Once, I spent a long time with someone's manuscript, and after sending her the critique, I went back and forth with her in emails, discussing solutions for a week, trying to be helpful. So, imagine my surprise when I visited her blog not long after and saw a long, impassioned rant about someone who'd ripped her manuscript to shreds. This person was not named, but by the details she gave, I know she meant me.

I have to say, I was really hurt. She and I have had no direct contact since. Every time I see her name in a forum we both belong to, I exit quietly.

I guess my point in telling this story is to ask people to remember how much time a critique takes and how hard it is to be honest and useful and tactful. You might not agree with the feedback, and in that case disregard it. But don't publicly flay someone who spent their time trying to help you.

Arlee Bird said...

This is a ton of good advice. Better to have the editors and critiquers point out the problems than to have them pointed out in reviews later on. I've been reading so many reviews lately that come down on lack of or poor editing.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out