Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Helping Hand

So I've made no secret on this blog that my current manuscript hasn't come easy. There are days when it feels so arduous to put words on the page that, well, I simply don't, and that's a real rarity for me. As much as I procrastinate writing, I almost always end up getting it done, so when I just flat-out skip a writing day, well...I need to make a change.

I'm nearly halfway through the ms (yay!), so my agent and I took another spin through it and decided on some small tweaks to improve the overall structure. But I still wasn't satisfied. I felt like I was missing something, something pretty big that could take what I now felt was a three and a half-star book to a five star book. So I asked my editor to take a read through, even though she normally waits until a ms is completed.

And I am so very, very, very glad that I did.

To begin with, she really loved it, which sometimes is what a writer needs to hear. As confident as we can sometimes be in our abilities, there is often a tiny nagging voice of doubt, and given how hard this ms has been for me to write, well, yeah, I heard that voice loud and clear. So I now feel like, yeah, I'm on the right track!

But more importantly, with her objective (and seasoned) set of eyes, she made a few plot suggestions that I think are just what the book needs, taking it from good to great, and in doing so, she's really renewed my enthusiasm to sit down and write the hell out of this thing. These are tweaks that I really do not think I would have come up with on my own, and you know what? That's entirely okay. I think that too often, writers fall into the trap of believing that their job is that of sole creator or that it's an entirely solitary entity. And it's so not. Collaboration can often make you a better writer, or at the very least push you to consider ideas that you might not have come up with on your own. I've long said that I'm the type of writer who can take her ms to certain place and from there, I need fresh eyes to guide me to the next level. And I'm pretty happy that I understand this about myself and my writing. If not, I'd be stuck waddling through this so-so ms that can actually be so much better. It's not as if my editor says, "write this, write that," but she helps guide me and get my creative juices flowing, and that is what the best collaborations or editorial feedback do.

So if you're stuck or just want to expand your ideas, I highly recommend bouncing your ms off a trusted reader. I really do think this can help take your work to the next level.


Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I couldn't agree more. I utilized the services of a copy editor on my recently finished ms, and she had great tips here and there that really took the book to a higher level. I think it's invaluable to get another trained and trusted set of eyes on your ms. Plus, as writers, we are so "lost/involved" in the story, that we sometimes miss signs, dialogue, or even plot lines along the way that can elevate and shine new light on the story.

Trish Ryan said...

Omigosh, this is PRICELESS writing advice. My first book was so different after the editing process, it made me wish I'd called for help earlier.

It's like any project we take on--fresh eyes can be so helpful in breaking through to really cool things we wouldn't have come up with on our own.

Rachel Wilson said...

Ah, thank you! I'm wrestling right now with excellent (but scary) advice from an advisor in my MFA program, and reading this at the moment feels like kismet.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to get positive feedback on your manuscript that has helped you to continue moving forward. I'm in the process of editing my YA novel so that I can send a clean copy to my agent. Eve though he told me that he's going to make me work my a$$ off to make it the best book possible, I'm actually looking forward to receiving his feedback and then going back, if necessary, and taking another stab at the story. This isn't about ego for me. It's about writing a book that people will want to read. Good luck to you as your finish your book. I can't wait to read it.


Amy Sue Nathan said...

Excellent advice and reminders, yet not all of us have friends or colleagues with eyes of a real editor -- someone who can find plot holes or suggest changes, identify character arcs, flaws and strengths. And when you give the ms to different people, you get different opinions and suggestions. At least that has been my experience.

Unknown said...

I love getting feedback on my writing as long as it's constructive. It's hard to find someone, if you don't have an editor friend or agent, that can do that for you. Luckily I have a few people I can count on and it helps me out tremendously. When I get a fresh idea for the plot, regardless of where or whom it comes from, it always energizes me and my story.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Amy Nathan. Now, I adore my critique group. They're smart cookies and well read. Several have published short stories. One had a high-profile agent for a while. (I was repped for a while too.) Although my peeps do help me take my work to a higher level, they are not literary agents or editors. Also, when you get six different people together, you're sometimes going to get six different opinions. I get stuck occasionally because I'm not sure who I should listen to.

But your advice is wonderful for authors who are repped and under contract. I know one author who waited until she'd finished the ms until showing it to her agent and editor. Bad things happened.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. Where I'm frustrated right now is that I'm eager to have a relationship with an agent--and eventually an editor--so that we're all heading in the same direction. As it is, I've gotten some excellent, helpful feedback from a handful of editors and agents over the past couple of years that has certainly helped me improve my mss, but begins to feel piecemeal after a while.