Writing is hard. I didn’t use to think so. When I wrote Anna’s Song, it flowed with ease. It was fun. I took nuggets while I wrote, planning ahead for the companion stories I wanted to write, and just knew they would be a breeze.
Then I turned my manuscript in for a content editor to review. That’s when the hard work began.
Oh, the joy of editing.
Let me back pedal. Long, long ago, I submitted my first chapter for professional critique. It was a nerve wrenching experience. I’d never shared my writing with someone outside of a few close friends and I had this odd emotional mix of vulnerability combined with cocky self-confidence. My book baby was good. I expected the professional would think so as well.
Ha. I needed a big slice of humble pie.
I got my copy back, and it had so many red lines, marks, and comments that they were almost more than my original word count.
Convinced I had zero talent and would never succeed at fiction, I threw my document in a drawer and vowed never to look at it again.
But there’s this weird thing about people who are meant to write. The story keeps getting in the way of life and that itch to put words to paper won’t let you put it away for long.
Days passed, then weeks. Maybe a couple of months. My eyes kept wandering to that drawer where in lay my detestable work. My failure.
I had read tons of books and articles on writing as well as having listened to lectures on the subject. I knew the saying. “To improve, you have to develop thick skin and learn from the criticism.” This phrase began haunting my thoughts.
So, one day, putting on my big girl pants, I marched to that drawer. With chapter in hand, I determined to learn from the comments and make my novel as excellent as possible.
To my surprise, I saw what I failed to see with my first review. At least half of the comments were positive! I was only half as bad as I thought I was!
Nothing like a fifty percent improvement on day one.
Most of the other comments made total sense, and I could see how, if I did what was recommended, my story would be much stronger. The dread turned to hopeful optimism.
Over the years, I’ve developed a very different attitude toward critiques and edits. It’s an exciting opportunity to learn.
I’ve read that even the “greats” in the writing world have to rewrite their manuscript after getting it back from an editor. Sometimes multiple times. I’m in good company.
The simple truth is, we know what we want to say. We comprehend what the story is about. But we often don’t recognize our own mistakes. Our brain skips over the messed up parts and reads it the way it’s supposed to be written, because that’s how it is in our head. Things are clear to us where they may not be to someone else. Then there’s those pesky, repetitive words and pet phrases. Good grief! We would bore our readers to death with how many times a character “sweeps back her hair” or says the same thing she said two paragraphs before. Let’s not mention the typos…
Life is like this. It’s often hard to identify our own mistakes. We want to follow our gut, do what feels right, when what we need is to read God’s ‘how to’ book. We also need to surround ourselves with wise people who will give us sound advice and good examples, people who fear God. We need friends who will call us back to the line when we stray, and encourage us as we run the race. Most of all, we need to let God have control over our story line.
Remember that sensation when you finish an an awesome book? It may have consumed hours of your life, but it was oh, so worth it. I want to get to the end of my story with that sense of “Wow, that was worth the time”. I want my family and friends to look back on my life and be glad they were part of it.
I’d like to skip all the drama and heartache I put my characters through, and to accomplish that I need to let God do major character editing. On me.
That doesn’t mean I won’t have drama or heartache. They are tools in God’s workbox. But it does mean my story will go where He wants it go, and my character arc will end with great satisfaction. (God willing, that chapter is still a long way off!)
Back to those companion stories I was confident would be written with ease…
It’s been a painful and growing process. Life threw me some huge distractions—my father died two weeks before Anna’s Song came out, my son had his transplant, there’s been babysitting of grandchildren, helping care for my aging mother, children moving, managing a small home run business, and in the middle of it all, the Covid doldrums.
It was hard getting those words on paper, and even harder finding the punch for my story. When I finally found Sofia’s story behind the story, I realized there was a reason behind my delays. God’s timing is amazing.
I have now submitted Sofia’s story to my editor and am getting ready to submit Jacob’s. My work is far from over, but this phase is exciting. In six to eight weeks, I should receive the edits.
Then the rewrites begin.
A story worth telling is worth telling well.