When an Editor Is a Bad Fit

I wrote a novel. It was technically my second — I completed my first novel for NaNoWriMo in 2013. But I hid it away, and I have no regrets on that score. It was truly terrible.

I spent three months on the first draft of my second story. This was THE story I wanted to tell, the one that came from deep down. It gushed out of me like a geyser in the space of three months. Then I rewrote

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Image by Mitchell Joyce via Flickr

it three times over the next five years.

During those years, I read a million writing books and took a course on novel structure. I submitted chapters to Critique Circle – a great place to learn from other writers and readers.

I polished the story as much as I could, but I needed expert advice to mold it into a masterpiece worthy of the greats: Austen, Bronte, Dickens. Well, at least to make it good enough to self-publish.

To reach my goal, I hired a highly recommended editor (who shall remain nameless) and sent her the first five chapters and a synopsis. I didn’t expect coddling. I expected criticism. How else could I improve the story? I wanted criticism.

I got it. Plenty of it. On every page. As I read through her sometimes blunt comments on the first couple of chapters, I saw many errors I had missed. She pointed out other elements I had failed to develop. But she was spot-on, and I knew I was getting my money’s worth. I was enthusiastic about revising…

Until I got to her comments on the fifth chapter in which I introduced another prominent character, the Love Interest.

In a nutshell, the editor told me not to “waste my time” on the novel because this character was fatally flawed.

I am, admittedly, sensitive. If, like me, you tend to wear your heart on your sleeve – or if you insert your heart into your story — BEWARE. Less-than-gentle (yes, harsh) criticism can cause acute myocardial infarction.

I have also been known for taking things too personally. But in this case, it felt personal. You see, anxiety and I are old friends, and the character in question suffered with an anxiety disorder. The editor couldn’t believe that someone with severe anxiety could also be high-functioning and rational in other respects. Ouch!

I asked many questions about her conclusion and explained the character arc — her growth from fear and solitude to strength and victory.

The editor stood her ground.

It’s been a year, and I haven’t had the fortitude to delve back into my novel since I received feedback. At the same time, I can’t get the story out of my system. It haunts me. Family and friends have encouraged me to send the chapters to a different editor. Maybe I will.

Over the past few years I’ve submitted short stories to four other editors. Each offered words of instruction and encouragement while not sparing the red marks in my manuscripts. They made my stories better without crushing my spirit. They were worth every penny.

Hopefully, my experience will help someone else. So here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1) Don’t wait FIVE YEARS before you get professional advice on your story. A good editor will catch developmental weaknesses that will save you time in the long run. And everyone needs an editor because everyone has blind spots. Even editors need editors. You may not agree with everything they recommend, but they will catch mistakes you missed.

2) If you don’t gel with one editor, hire another. You are paying them to HELP you, not tear you down. Some people will say it’s their job to tell you the cold hard truth, but the WAY they tell it can encourage or discourage, inspire or demoralize. Find a professional who gives it to you straight in a constructive way.

3) If you feel strongly about a story, don’t allow ONE person’s opinion to hold you back. I’m still learning this lesson.

Perhaps this should be number four: if you can’t work with one editor, don’t wait a whole year before you find another. Maybe it’s time to dig through the box by my easy chair and pull out that manuscript…

 

 

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The Cranky Cure: My Favorite Writing Podcasts

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I’ve never been called a stellar housekeeper. No doubt this is due to my high tolerance for disorder and dirt.

But I have my limits.

When I can scrawl my name in the dust on the hall table, I know it’s time to pull out the Pledge. But as I’m dusting, I’m thinking, I wish I were writing!

On these days, when I’m frustrated with the necessity of housework and other chores, I console myself by multitasking with a podcast about writing. I feel super productive (and less grumpy) as I simultaneously clean the house and learn how to clean up a manuscript.  And washing yesterday’s dishes is infinitely more entertaining while I’m listening to Brandon Sanderson discuss limited third person point of view.

Here are my favorite writing podcasts in no particular order:

1) Writing Excuses

Hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. This is the first writing podcast I ever heard, and even in my literary ignorance, I knew I’d stumbled upon a treasure. The site has archived twelve seasons of episodes covering a slew of writing topics. And lucky for us, they continue to post a new program every Sunday.

2) The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn is the authority on self-publishing and becoming an author entrepreneur. Many of her podcasts focus on the business side of things, but a fair number also tackle creative and writing topics. I could listen to Joanna’s lovely British accent all day, and sometimes I do.

3) The Worried Writer

I found this one only a few months ago, but from the first episode, it became a favorite. Sarah Painter, aka, the Worried Writer, interviews authors about their writing processes and concerns. Her advice about overcoming fear-based procrastination and her encouraging, gentle Scottish voice have helped this anxious scribbler many times. New programs post on the first day of each month.

4) The Story Grid Podcast

Tim Grahl and editor Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, discuss various details of novel writing as Shawn guides Tim from page one of his story to “The End.”

5) The Bestseller Experiment

These guys win first prize for Zany British Humor, or rather, humour. The Two Marks–Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux–interview big-name authors about the writing process and publishing.  Highly informative and entertaining. They will make you smile.

I’d love to hear about other good writing podcasts. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.