Over the years, writer friends and acquaintances have asked if I would consider doing a series of blog posts on writing. Until recently, I hesitated to do so, mostly because there are so many great writer blogs out there already. I wasn’t sure one more would be of interest to anyone. That said, I’ve decided that even if no one reads them, they would be both educational and cathartic to my own process. So here goes. Episode one in my #ButtInSeat series.
Getting That First Draft Back
My stomach hurts and my heart pounds harder just thinking about receiving notes back from my editor on a first draft of a novel, wondering how bad it will be. Every day I open my email, secretly hoping that I won’t get the notes back today. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. Yeah, next week is good.
Today was the day. I received story edit notes from my editor for Riversnow. Like in the past, the notes were pages long. Yes, pages. For a story edit, a good editor usually identifies a few big problems and a bunch of tiny ones, all fixable, but daunting just the same. As always, this morning, I felt panicky. The awful self-talk started. Can I do this? I can’t, in fact. I’ve finally been discovered to be the fake that I always knew I was. These notes prove it. I broke out in a cold sweat and paced my office. I contemplated taking a nap, or eating cookies, or opening wine.
Instead of any of those choices, I took a deep breath. I read through the notes one more time. I printed a copy and set it next to my keyboard. I made a cup of apple spice tea. I sat back at my desk. I sighed, deeply. I got to work.
There was, quite literally, no other choice. To write well, we must tackle that second draft.
Despite the hives and panic attacks, there’s good news. As I sat down today and started in on the first chapter, the ideas flowed out of me like my brain was on super smart overdrive. My fingers flew over the keys. After an hour of solid work, I remembered something I seem to forget every single time. The second draft, after notes, is my favorite part in the process. For me, that’s when the deepening of story, character and language happens. I began to feel like a real writer, not a hack, like I do so often. Which, as a side note, is not necessarily a bad thing. Any writer worth their salt feels like a hack most of the time. It’s what pushes us to be better, to work harder and longer.
There’s something terribly fun and satisfying about getting feedback and figuring out how to solve the problems the editor has illuminated. It’s a bit like a puzzle. The first draft is like you have two-thirds of a puzzle completed, but you’re missing the pieces to complete the other third. You’re even certain what shape they will be or where they will go. When you get that first draft back, it’s as if the editor dumps those missing pieces in your lap, and suddenly it’s obvious what their shape is and where the pieces go. You find other pieces that even the editor didn’t find and you feel brilliant and amazing.
What I’ve found over the years and ten novels, is that most good editors work similarly. I’ve been lucky to work with exceptional freelance editors in the past, and my new one is no exception. In fact, she’s ridiculously good. She’s spot on with her story and character feedback, and is a grammar aficionado, so precise it’s mind-blowing. She once told me she would give me a million dollars if I would consider not using a phrase because of conflicting data on whether a hyphen was needed or not. I made the change, and I’m still waiting for my million dollars. But I digress…
I cannot emphasize enough how important a good editor is to a writer. This relationship is as important as finding the right spouse. I’m dead serious about this! An editor is your writer spouse. They know your strengths and weaknesses. They have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of your heart and soul. They believe in your talent, but also push you hard. Sometimes it hurts, but at the end of the day, it makes you a better writer, and that’s what we want.
I’m #ButtInSeat for the next few days, but drop me a line if you have a question or a comment, or just to wish me luck with this second draft. Writer hugs until then.