Wednesday, March 15, 2006

LS: Writers and Editors and Mick J.

Criticism, even constructive, right-on and well-wishing criticism stings. I hate giving it out more than I do receiving it. Probably because I've been receiving it for so long now. But this is how I cope.

I know that my editor wants this book to be the best it can be. She's not just laying out the weaknesses of my work for its own sake. She's on my side. I've also developed a great relationship with Erin over the past six books. That makes a huge difference.

Editors take note here. Forging the relationship is your responsibility as well. Erin has totally done her part to get to know me. An editor will have a hard time "getting" an author's work without "getting" him or her. And that lack of the very basic understanding of what the artist is trying to do can be the beginning of the troubles. If the author doesn't want a relationship, well, they're making a big mistake.

Confession? I don't actually think the world is doing its best to cast me down. Some writers might be hard to work with, fighting every little change, being very difficult, but as for me, I'm not writin' scripture folks! And as far as I know, neither is anybody else these days. Of course, I'm relatively young and untried as a novelist. Maybe someday I'll have more confidence in my work. However, I honestly believe my editor and I are a team.

Sure it's hard at first to read her comments. I've worked months and months on the piece, why wouldn't it be hard to have its glaring inconsistencies, its plot problems, its underdeveloped themes, exposed in an email for heaven's sake?! While this process used to throw me for a loop for several days, I've learned to deal with it by second-guessing Erin.

"Okay, so if I were Erin, what would I think is wrong with this thing?"

And then I try to figure it out. Now a lot of the time, I know exactly what's wrong and have no idea how to fix the problem and I'm right up front with it at submission time so Erin can be on the alert. Sometimes, regarding concerns I haven't openly addressed up front, Erin comes back with the same concerns --so I know what really isn't working. It's fun to see if her comments jive with my own feelings. And usually they do. But only because I've let myself step into her shoes, step back from my own work, and try my best get through this with my defensive glasses firmly in my pocket.

Now, here's the caveat. I can only do this once the manuscript is at the publisher's and I've got the freedom to really think about the piece. Makes sense on some level. You have to let go to be real sometimes.

I've actually had wonderful epiphanies afer submitting the manuscript, before anyone's yet read it, and I'll email the message, "Wait! I've got another draft coming tomorrow!"

In short, I welcome the criticism of my editor and my publisher. Sometimes the suggestions are so right-on, and so NOT what I was thinking, that I put on my creative hat and set my hand to the challenge. That's kind of fun.

Sometimes, however, and usually this isn't from Erin, I find a suggestion complete bunk. But in preparation for this, I try to make as many changes as I can allow artistically, so that, when I need to stick to my guns, I've got a bank full of political capital. It's stupid to squander that wealth on a jot or a tittle. Plus, there are a lot of good writers out there and I'm not raking in the dough for my houses. If I'm a boob in the editing process, after a while, I just won't be worth it.

I believe in the art of the novel, but I also believe that once a novelist has entered the realm of publication, it behooves her/him to be professional, courteous, open and short the ginormous chip on the shoulder. In short, play nice and behave like you'd expect your children to behave. Like with your own child, a tantrum doesn't work after a while. It's always easier to give in to the child who behaves herself, and if something is important enough to her? Well, I've never had a publisher yet not acquiesce when something means a great deal to me. Patience and a long-haul perspective always does everybody involved a world of good.

Of course, I'm sure there are those who would disagree with my approach. But hey, whatever works for you. I guess I'm in the Mick Jagger school of editing psychology, "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find (you just might find!) you get what you need.

"Ah, yeah . . . "

Find Lisa, author of The Church Ladies and Club Sandwich, at author intrusion,


At 9:22 AM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

Right, Lisa. Sometimes, I can't get no satisfaction; I feel like a beast of burden. That's when I e-mail Angie, Annngaaaay...

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Angela said...

LOL. Great post, Lisa. Our editors are worth their collective weight in gold . . .

And Jimbo, I actually LIKED that Stones' song. It was that Helen Reddy song (You're a little touched, ya know, Angie baby) that made me howl at the moon . . .


At 12:50 PM, Blogger Ernie W. said...

HI Lisa, great post about the relationship a writer must have with his/her editor. As a new writer it is a great insight to have as I delve into this great adventure.
Thanks, Ernie Wenk


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