Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writer's Wednesday: The Importance of People Telling You That You Suck

I hit a major milestone last Thursday: I finished the last major edit of my book. This means that, as far as I'm concerned, the book as a whole is polished, save for a grammatical errors or syntax issues that I might have missed on accident. But because there are things that I can miss, my manuscript is currently being read by my husband (for the second time) and my best friend (for the first).

I want to digress and say that my husband converted my book into e-book format in order to edit it better. He included the cover art (in the end, I ditched my first round of prototypes and went for one created by my sister in law) and downloaded to his Nook. I almost wanted to cry, holding his Nook in my hands and seeing my book in actual e-book format for the very first time.

Peer edits are possibly the hardest part of writing. It means coming face to face with the reality that what you wrote isn't the perfect gem you thought it was. I remember when my original story arc was downright destroyed by my professor. Even though I wanted to crawl into a corner and die while she ruthlessly dissected it, I was so thankful for it. In the end, my book's original plot didn't have a proper arc to it. To publish that would've been hypocritical, as there is nothing that irks me more than books without proper story arc.

Peer edits are so important for one main reason: your peers aren't you. They don't know your thought process when you wrote that sentence. Like the standard reading audience, they have no context for your book. All they have are the words in front of them. Are you painting a proper picture? Are your characters coming off as complex and believable? Are your sentences concise, or are you losing your audience's interest?

It's also why I suggest waiting a long, long while to edit your own work. Be it a short story, poem, novella, or full-out epic series, let it be for at least 3 months. Work on other projects. In fact, the longer you wait, the better. I actually left my manuscript alone for almost a year -- ironically, while I was trying find literary representation. When I came back to my manuscript, I forgot about 70% of my thought process behind the book. I had even forgotten when and how a few events in the book played out. And that was perfect. Granted, it meant that I found myself rewriting entire pages sometimes, downright kicking myself for such sloppy writing. But, on the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised with how well some scenes were written. And nothing feeds a writer's ego quite like the realization that something is actually better than you remember it.

However, I add one caveat to peer-edits: take what people say with a grain of salt. This goes two ways. One: you can't please everyone. If you have an entire workshop of people reading your book, and you get 20 different suggestions, and you try to fix your book 20 different ways … your book will end up collapsing in on itself. While it's vital to hear what others have to say about your work, at the end of the day, it is still your work. It is better to have a book that is a little flawed in some people's eyes than try to please everyone and end up with a colossal failure.

Much like with editing your own work, take some time to digest what had been said by your peers before making any changes. Figure out how you can improve your book without just giving in to every single suggestion.

Two: some people just give bad advice. Be it because they're lazy or bitter or just plain ineffectual. This is my favorite example of a bad peer review: I once received a critique from a fellow classmate regarding a short story. He made zero mark-ups, zero comments ... until the near-end, where I had a sentence that essentially read as, "and this stupid boss and stupid desk and stupid job." He circled the second (just the second!) "stupid" and said, "You already used this word. Choose a different one."

I'm still hoping for a September 1st publishing deadline. Things are definitely going to be different when I go back to work (July 23rd is going to come a lot quicker than I'd like it to), but I am determined. I look at iBooks or and I just get anxious. I browse books on the Android App Market and I get so excited that I almost want to jump ahead in the process and publish my book now now now. I just hope I can harness that excitement for when I get critiques back from my best friend and my husband (who is known to take no prisoners with his editing!).

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