Writing can be a comfortable sport. Let’s see if we can make it less comfortable.
I don’t mean that writing is easy (it’s not) or something that just works without the least bit of effort (it doesn’t). What I mean is that there’s comfort in the predictable, the knowable, the accustomed. When we write, we feel like we “know” our characters, our plot, and our devices. Even if there are gaps or problems, it’s easy to fill them in with the details that exist only in our minds.
You, as a writer, may know that Protagonist Paul was once a yoga instructor at the YMCA, where he met an ex-girlfriend who later reminded him of his mom who was emotionally unattached when he was young. But do we? Should we? Does that matter to the story you’re telling?
Looking at your work as an editor—the Track-Changes Nazi—isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright painful. But self-policing your work could be the difference between a quick rejection and consideration.
Here’s how to get uncomfortable:
- Don’t listen . . . at first: When you’re writing your outline and first draft, ignore the internal editing nag. Get the whole piece out or get to a logical stopping point before you slice and dice. If you spend too much time revising while writing, you run the risk of losing the flow of your work. There’ll be time for that later.
- Go fish: Or do anything else besides staring at the work you’ve just finished. You’re better off working on another project than trying to quickly jump into revision. As I mentioned before, it’s easy for our comfort to blind us to the problems with fresh writing. Wait a month or six and then go back with the hacksaw. In the meantime . . .
- Get help: When you’ve got enough of a manuscript (or article or paper) for others to critique, do so. Personally, I prefer to wait until I have the whole draft or book wrestled into submission, but some prefer taking the first few sample pages to a writing group to see if the project is worth pursuing. Friends don’t let friends write junk (or they shouldn’t).
- Bite the bullet: Once you’ve gotten feedback and have put enough time between the writing and the revision, that’s when the pain comes. As much work as you poured into writing, the editing is more intense. Leave nothing off the chopping block—themes, the main plot, characters, the most awesome description you’ve ever written. If you aren’t willing to lose something, you need to wait longer before editing. The point is this: Editing means holding nothing as concrete until you produce the best work you can write with the skills you have.
Getting published is hard work—before and after your work is printed. Even for all your effort in revision, there may still be enough changes from the publisher or editor to make you feel like your masterpiece has been gutted, filleted, and replaced with an entirely new fish. But going out of your comfort zone and being your own pre-editor improves your chances of attracting the notice of agents and publishers.
If you’re on this blog, you’re dedicated to getting it right. Being an editor—and getting uncomfortable—is part of that.