“Good editing is invisible. Bad editing is painfully obvious—usually because the editor has, instead of clarifying the author’s intent, attempted to rewrite in the editor’s own style. Editors are there to remove, rearrange, and altogether improve, not to make the writing their own.”
As we get older, we begin to realize that control is an illusion—one that, as I recently learned from Dr. Shelley Prevost—can cause big-time anxiety. Think about it: if you believe you have the ability to control a situation, then you also believe you’re responsible when it falls apart. You could have done more, tried harder, worked longer …
This, of course, is bull. We do not have control over what happens—not ultimately, at least.
And this is just as true for authors as it is for the rest of the world.
Say you spent the last 2 years of your life writing a book. You worked with an editor through a developmental process, you revised, reached out to test readers and took their ideas into consideration, and you had the final draft proofread. In short, the book is in terrific shape. It’s the best you can possibly make it.
So why then, when you set it up on Amazon, does all that momentum you were building stall out? Why does a reader leave a 1-star review? Why do the sales move so slow? Why, why, why …
If you have the expectation and/or belief of control, then you’ll likely castigate yourself. Maybe you should have done one more revision. Gone through one more edit. Pushed a little further with your test readers.
And all that might be true. But.
At some point, you have to concede that you’ve done your best. The person you are at this moment and all the knowledge and hard work you can muster were put into the book. It’s honestly the best you can make it today. And it’s now time to move on.
Because guess what? Your next effort is going to be better. It’ll take a little time to find your guts again, but once you get started, you’ll take everything you’ve learned in the past 2+ years and pour it into this next effort.
All any of us can do is try our best—and then realize there are trillions of things (big and small) we will never be able to account for, let alone control.
Maybe that 1-star reviewer was having a bad day and decided to take it out on your book. Maybe there aren’t enough people interested in the niche you’re writing about. Maybe, maybe, maybe …
Sometimes, you won’t be able to figure out why things didn’t go the way you hoped. All you can do is stand up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
And when you’re ready, I’m here to help!
Why Editors Take So Long and What You Can Do About It
(Note: this article applies only to finished projects, not developmental edits.)
Have you ever sent your project to an editor, only to find out it’s going to take twice as long to complete as you imagined? Why? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Editors don’t work eight hours a day.
We can’t. Our focus falters; we start missing mistakes or, even worse, creating them; our eyes get physically tired; and our brains stop processing properly.
Breaks help, but after hours of staring at walls of text, we’re spent. If we don’t step away, the project is going to suffer—and so are we.
Every editor is different, but I personally can manage 4–5 hours a day at most. The biggest predictor is the quality of the project. The higher the quality, the longer I can work.
Which brings me to my next point: What can you do as a writer to shorten the turnaround time of a project?
Get your project into the best shape possible before you send it out.
This means run spellcheck, cite what needs citing, put punctuation inside quotation marks, check for obvious continuity issues, have test readers give you feedback—anything and everything you can do as a writer to allow the editor to focus on his/her job: namely, to help make your work as clear as possible to readers.
Staring at page after page of content on a daily basis, trying to glue it all together in some kind of sensible form, is not an easy task. But editors do it every day. Why? Because we love our authors!
It is truly my pleasure to get up every day and collaborate with writers all over the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Timelines in Fiction
For the past two months, I’ve been working with the author of a noir-style 1940s suspense novel. The timeline of events in the 300+-page book is complicated—even down to exact minutes.
How do authors keep such intricate details straight? Plot them out in the beginning and keep track of them as you go along.
There are so many ways to do this:
- dry-erase markers on a whiteboard,
- sticky notes on a wall,
- index cards on a corkboard,
- an outline in a word processing document,
- a detailed spreadsheet (like Microsoft’s Excel), or
- even a dedicated program (like Aeon Timeline).
Plotting out the events of your novel not only makes its timeline clear but can also help refine its story arc. How? As you coordinate what happens, you’ll inevitably find places where the action drags or a scene doesn’t fit (a lengthy but unnecessary stop at a grocery store, for instance). Seeing everything laid out will tell you exactly what needs to be rearranged, shortened/lengthened, or removed entirely.
The time to make sure the details of your timeline are straight is before you start writing, but if you’re in the middle of things and find yourself more and more confused, it’s never too late to get organized.
Write down the details, type them out, or even draw them—anything that helps you clarify where your characters have been and where they’re going.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely at least heard the name Brené Brown. She’s “spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.” What do any of those have to do with writing? Plenty.
Every one of you writers out there knows how much courage it takes to put a single word on the page, how vulnerable it makes you feel to pursue publishing those words, how much shame you feel when you get a “no” (how in the world do we not take that personally?!), and how much empathy you feel when you meet another writer struggling out there in the world.
So if you’re feeling a little low about it all, I highly recommend two things:
- Try reading one of Brown’s books, like Daring Greatly or The Power of Vulnerability.
- Watch one of Brown’s TED Talks or her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage.
You will find that you are not alone, you are not powerless, and you are not done!