Every writer’s necessary partners …

Writing a book—as so many authors from Hemingway to Twain have declared—is a solitary profession. It requires long hours of solitude and quiet contemplation. Sometimes it’s lonely. But for a book to really shine—especially in today’s competitive marketplace—it eventually requires the aid of others.

Editors and graphic designers are at the top of that list. Having published two books, I am acutely aware how important these two writer partners are.

First, editors.

For many writers there is a tension here, a kind of natural hesitancy to listen to editors. I’ve observed this in many “young” writers. (I use “young” here as inexperienced.) Much of their caution comes from the notion that writing must be inspired. Thus if it is so inspired, then it must be perfect—or at least perfectly rendered in their opinion. While inspiration has a role, of course, writing might more be described as yeoman’s work. It is hard and requires considerable time and attention—but here’s the clincher: good writing lives or dies on the ability of a writer to go beyond inspiration and into the realm of plain old sweat equity.

Therefore, editors—and I’d include beta readers in this umbrella—can make or break a book. They can point out flaws that writers, who often have tunnel vision, cannot see. Good editors will also tell you the truth. If something in a book isn’t working, they’ll tell you—and your book will be better if you listen to them.

Similarly, graphic designers can take an ordinary book and make it look like a masterpiece by using the right fonts, the right flourishes, just the right formatting. And when it comes to covers, the work of these designers becomes your front porch—what readers see first and what draws them to look beyond the cover.

The mature writer knows this. He or she also knows that perfection is impossible in writing. Writers still strive for perfection, but never has been a book written that has received universal praise. Never. The seasoned writer knows that editors are critical to advancing a work toward that elusive goal of perfection.

So, it is at this point that so many writers are derailed. They become discouraged by editorial criticism, even when it is spot on and offered in the most generous of terms. They have—and I have seen this so often—become so identified with their every word, sentence, paragraph that to change a single word is like cutting off a finger or putting out an eye. They either quit altogether or—worse yet—they plow on with a far less than excellent book.

Yes, editorial review can sting. So can mercurochrome.

But to arrive at the point where a writer can step back and look critically at his or her own work is a significant milestone—an essential milestone. It signals the point where writing changes from frenzied inspiration to serious craftsmanship.

Finding a trustworthy and competent editor, however, is perhaps one of the hardest tasks for aspiring writers. There are editors, and then there are editors.

Finding a good one is tough, mostly because any of the friends and/or family one might logically look to for editorial help are not competent editors or they are unwilling to tell you the truth.

Years ago, I attended a writing group, a meeting of fresh, green aspiring writers. They gathered around a table and read their work. Each reading was met with praise. Fortunately, I was a guest and could politely decline offering my opinion. But had I, my criticisms would have been scathing. These writers—earnest, ‘inspired,’ and eager—were at the very starting gate of a race that I knew was a thousand furlongs. In other words, they had a long way to go, a lot to learn—and the affirmation they received was, quite frankly, dishonest.

Each one lapped up the praise—but they didn’t learn a thing.

In one of my favorite writing blogs, “The Editor’s Blog,” by fiction editor Beth Hill, you will find an entry titled, “When the Emperor is Naked, Tell Him.Every aspiring writer should read it….and take it in.

Hill discusses the failure of critics to be honest with writers and how it hinders their progress. Sometimes criticism hurts, but like the surgical removal of a tumor, the pain leads to healthier writing.

To accept this surgical kind of editing, writers must remove their personal feelings and examine their work with an honest eye. That is not easy, but that is essential.

The ability to step back and look critically at one’s own work is summed up succinctly in the oft-given advice to writers: “Kill your darlings.” In its simplest form, it means everything you’ve written should be subject to tweaking or adjustment or simply deletion. It takes courage. Yes, it does. But the end product will be far better.

Next week I’ll discuss the editor’s side of this equation and how editors can make or break a writer’s spirit.

“Revision: How to Kill Your Darlings and Survive the Process,” by Ruthanne Reid https://thewritepractice.com/kill-your-darlings/

“When the Emperor is Naked, Tell Him,” by Beth Hill

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