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.