Other than several years’ worth of critique partner comments, I have experienced editorial notes for the first time in my writing career. And over the past week I’ve been making the story better one word at a time … as well as learned anew the power of gaining perspective.
In both my personal life and my contracted book, I can be too close to the story to see the flaws outside observers notice so easily. So when the managing editor of the publishing house sent a three page letter of initial notes to address before the real editing begins, I promised to keep an open mind. To be a big girl and not throw things. To let the opinions percolate and simmer and filter through what I knew about good storytelling until the morning I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Some were easier to fix than others. A certain character’s transition from point A to internal point B seemed too sudden and therefore shallow? I wove in a sequence of internal thoughts through the chapters to make it more realistic. Too much detail or confusion in certain types of action scenes? I marked the scenes then trimmed or reworded as necessary. A few clique or overused phrases were deliberately searched for and changed.
Making the story stronger simply took a plan of action and a few small changes here and there to make a big difference.
But, to be perfectly honest, some points on the editorial letter were a lot harder to handle. Not because I didn’t agree, but because I wasn’t sure how to fix them.
For example, my opening pages felt weak compared to the rest of the book. Did they have any idea how many times I’d already revised, reworked, and rethought that scene? If I knew how to fix it, wouldn’t I have already done so? But instead of whining about the truth and how hard it would be to fix, I brainstormed outside the box with a fellow writing friend then evaluated those new ideas for merit. By working through the possibilities, I discovered the best way to start the story and how to make the point-of-view character more likeable despite the difficult situation she faced. A week’s intense wrestling ended with success!
Unfortunately, the same can be said of other blind spots in my life, like my perfectionism. I know there’s a problem of some sort, but I don’t know how to begin to fix it. Especially if I can’t put my finger on exactly what’s wrong. So, I seek a different perspective through a trusted friend and brainstorm possible reasons and solutions for my behavior. Then, after letting God’s Spirit nudge the truth to the top of the pile, I can make changes.
My life and my story won’t be perfect, but each can get better and better, one small word at a time.
What about you? Have you ever received helpful criticism? How soon did you tackle making changes or did you tackle the messenger instead? Have you ever thought outside the box to discover the solution to your problem? Do baby steps count as progress?