Okay, yeah, the title is a bit misleading. This isn’t about disparaging the writer or their book. I think the worst books can be saved. (Lawd knows mine was saved from the pit!) This article is about first accepting that your initial draft, or second, third, and fourth may be unpublishable or downright awful. Second, accepting that harsh criticism is necessary for growth.
So what inspired this need to hone in on the obvious? A client sent us a scintillating email this morning to opt out of a mailing list that doesn’t exist. I won’t repost it because Beta Witches do not show anyone what our clients write without their expressed permission. The gist was, though, that I’m a terrible person, a terrible editor, and a truly odd person.
In truth, aren’t all of us creative types weird? In my art classes, we call each other odd all day with glee because normal can’t make art. And writing is truly an art if done well.
It’s the second point that I want to highlight, the part about my being a terrible editor. I’m not defending my skills here, but more so highlighting the fact that every writer will get negative feedback about their art. This is so true especially with the editing process of a book!
In my 2-D art and photography classes, we have critiques, just like editing is a writer’s critique. My teachers are brutal! The critiques happen in front of the class. My absolute worst occurred exactly one year ago where an entire theater of professional and semi-professional photographers said my work was akin to street photography as it was plastered across the movie screen. Meaning that my work was bad.
New to photography since I’d only been in class three days before that first crushing critique, I cried and wanted to quit. I was the worst in that group and the worst in my classes for at least 9 months. And yes, I did threaten to quit at least once a week.
This same process happened with my writing. I threatened to give up every two months because of bad feedback, and writing/editing was just too hard. I know you guys can empathize.
Yet, I listened to my editors. (My second editor was so worried about her critique that she apologized before sending her feedback! She said that the book just fell part by the third act. By the second series, she was hounding me to get the sequel finished so she could keep going with the story!)
I rewrote that first book five times. I really rewrote my book five times. I (mostly) listened to my beta readers, and I ended up with a much better book. All this while I wrote/am writing my six other books and having those edited/beta read.
I listened to my photography teachers and kept going despite being just plain bad at photography. I cried all the time, nevertheless, I persisted in writing and photography.
Seven years later with the writing and a year later with the photography, I’m at a better place. My art teachers say I’m a good photographer and I need to look into selling my work to magazines. Check out my Instagram page Molly.Creates to see my progression from my lowly iPhone picture days to my ability to use professional studio lights. And yes, I cooked that food.
Yesterday, a published author friend said I was a good writer and good storyteller. (By published I mean she makes more money Indie-publishing than she did at her government job. This affords her nice long lunches like we had yesterday afternoon, but I digress.)
My friend said publish publish publish cause the book is good, but only after I do another edit. Did you get that? After I do another edit on top of the three years of editing I’ve already done. (It took that long beacuse I had to pay in installments.) Writing a book doesn’t stop once the story is good! It "stops" once all elements like grammar, composition, the teeny tiny plot holes, the lagging parts etc are fixed. That takes time if you want to be on the level of a traditionally published professional on the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Art, boys and girls, is a lot of work.
So my overall mega big point is that editors have to tell you the truth. Well, we don’t have to, but it’s in your best interest to hear the truth.
Yesterday, at that same ladies-who-lunch lunch there was this hilarious woman who also edits. She said that no matter how bad a book is she only corrects grammar, syntax, and lightly touches on the story. Her reasoning is that she wants to be nice because the writer will get enough flack once they publish. This is the age of freely mouthing off on the internet, ya know.
The truth is that no matter how good a book is people will criticize it, but there’s a difference between justified and unjustified criticism. Your editor needs to tell you the truth that your first draft is crap. All first drafts are crap. I mean an Anne Rice first draft will be better than my third draft, but for her, it’s still crap.
Do you get that? If you can get that then you’ll probably be successful. If you want your editors to kiss your tail and lie then be prepared for some harsh ice water once that book is published.
The entertainment business is cutthroat. The most talented don’t survive. The most driven and the hardest workers make it big.
I just read on Quora about a man who used to choreograph Madonna’s tours at the height of her popularity. He said that what he remembers the most is that her talent level is low. Her work ethic, determination, and ability to market herself made her Madonna. He said no one works harder than her.
So take that crappy first edit, take the harsh feedback from the editor, and put the work in to make your book a success. I read a blog once where a writer said that so few will put the time to write a real book that the market is less saturated for good books. He said if you work hard enough you’ll outwork the rest.
So go make that crap a success.
As usual, I like to add what others write about on the same or similar topics. As writers we have to always read what others are saying, read other books, and stay abreast of the field. These are some inspiring posts I hope you'll like.