We, authors, want our creations to be read and loved. And most of us agree that before the readers get to see any word written by us, it needs to be scanned and checked by one or more pairs of eyes, other than ours.
Many of us have learned from wonderful writing teachers and great books about self-editing that we need to trust our editors, and if they have a strong opinion about something then it is most probable that the readers will have issues with those bits too.
But when the moment comes to send our stories to beta-readers (friends, or other friendly readers tasting our stories before they are going to professional editors) and editors, we get cold feet. We even might revise our work tens of times, because we think that it is not ready or not good enough.
They won’t like my story!
I sent a revised draft of “A Spy’s Daughter” to three beta-readers. Two have answered and gave feedback. They loved it. One of these two, my niece Mihaela, edited the book thoroughly, and her input turned out to be a great line edit. Mihaela didn’t have any major objections or changes to suggest.
The third reader, my friend Leah Curney, and I agreed on a later deadline for her feedback because of the commitments she head. And as we e-mailed about this deadline she wrote that she loved what she read so far.
And still, my brain kept creating scenarios in which Leah’s final feedback would contain harsh words of criticism claiming that it was the worst book she’d ever read. Even re-reading her intermediate feedback didn’t help. Those thoughts of unworthiness of my creations kept coming back.
I did hope for a positive feedback from Leah and sometimes I tried to fantasize what she might say, but at the end the pessimistic thoughts prevailed.
What came was completely unexpected. Along with constructive, insightful and brilliant ideas how to improve various parts on my book, Leah wrote the following:
“What a great story! And there were so many beautiful poetic lines of writing. Here are a couple of my faves. (I only jotted down a few, there were many more…)
- ‘So different from the gray day outside. And all so different from her gray life outside of this building.’
- ‘Liam’s hands searched for non-existing side-pockets in his boxer-shorts.’
- ‘Hannah nodded in answer to him and managed to smuggle a few words in to the conversation.’”
Leah’s feedback reassured and encouraged me.
The next step was to revise and send the book to my editor in USA, Rob Bignell.
Exactly the same scenario as with Leah repeated itself. Rob wrote in-between that he very much liked the story. The automatic thoughts reappeared that his final words will be a guillotine for my story.
But they weren’t. Rob pointed out a few repeatable issues I could learn from (which I at the end added to my self-editing checklist), and made line edits for the rest.
What helped was to notice how automatically these self-judging thoughts appeared and that they were like recordings, without much change to the sense in them. Noticing without criticizing and being curious what the readers and editors actually said about my books were fortunately stronger than fear. Curiosity prevailed. As well as the newfound and highly appreciated will to be both kind and honest to myself.
But my brain is very creative in generating new (or seemingly new) worries.
I’m not able to remember all my editors taught me! Therefore, I will never be a great writer!
My next worry was that my editors would point out constantly the same mistakes and tell me that I am not able to learn. I was afraid that I won’t be able to remember all the recognitions and lessons learned from the edits and comments by the editors and the beta-readers. And that I would be doing the same mistakes again and again.
I am lucky to have a very good friend popping up to help many times every day. This friend is awareness. Granting her (I like thinking of awareness as one of my very best girlfriends 🙂 ) time and attention brings plenty of awards. And in the above scenario she exclaimed, “So what!? Of course you will forget some of the lessons learned, and of course you will make some of the mistakes again. But there will be also many that you won’t repeat, and many of those you seemingly repeat will have a new context. The mistakes are not mistakes, they are just adjustments on your way. So just have fun with what you experiencing.”
Hmm, I thought. She might be right.
So I tried something out when I was going through the edits of my very first book “The Truth About Family” (and also with the books after that). I went through all of the explicit comments by Alice Jago, the British editor of my books, and addressed them adjusting the text to resolve issues she pointed out. Afterwards, I have accepted all the changes in a new version of my book file, printed it out and let it rest a few days.
Then I read the manuscript, without checking each of the edits from Alice. I decided to treat the new version of the book as our team effort and read it as such. I loved what I read and noticed myself doing by hand three types of comments and markings:
- Bits I stumbled upon and which needed to be addressed and modified (whether they were simply typing errors or larger inconsistencies),
- Bits, which I really liked and was really excited about. I wanted to see who came with this great idea, Alice, my editor, or me,
- New words for me, which appeared in the edits, or the words I knew but, which I was sure not having used in a certain context (related to the first bullet above).
Then I looked up those places (and only those) in the file with all change suggestions marked.
What I discovered there — and what happened to me for at least five times up till now — was both humbling and uplifting.
There were changes, which my editors suggested but upon which I stumbled, and which I changed back or modified in a completely different way (what happened in most of such cases).
When I fix those bits, I feel best when I don’t criticize either side, but just recognize that there was a misunderstanding, that an action is needed, and that I am ultimately the one responsible for the quality and final outcome for my books.
There were also bits I stumbled upon, which were not edited but came from my original text and I saw that I still had the possibility to improve my writing.
Now to the great bits. These were, which made me both humble and proud. Humble, because I saw how much better my writing is due to the contribution of my editors and beta-readers, how they add colour, crispiness and greatness, and the realization that they really care about my writing and about me.
And proud because I discovered some of the beautiful ones (often surprisingly to me) being my own all the way. These great bits, being mine all the time, also made me humble, because my ego realized that all the daydreaming and plans and vain discussions inside my head were not responsible for all those great bits. The moments of creativity, the moments of now, the ones letting my true self come to its full expression are those, whom my ego and the other bits of me have to thank.
You are not alone! You don’t have to feel lonely.
I hope that the my tales above inspired you to observe yourself without judging: how your ego and thoughts are often harsh with yourself, and how your thoughts try to preoccupy you when there is something scary or new, or even exciting to do, when you are pulled out of your comfort zone. Observe the tone of your beta readers, your editors, and the one of your thoughts. Of course refer only to the comments of the kind editors and beta-readers. Those unkind are at least as harsh with themselves as you are with yourself, probably even harsher.
So welcome the edits, thank those who proposed them, and, again, look at all this as a big, fun game.
It is a game and the more you practice it, the better you will become in it.
So let’s practice. I’ll do it along with you.
Picture: Sky above Aalborg reminiscent of a lined notebook.
“Cheerleading For Writers”, copyright © 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels