So You Wanna Be a Writer—Part 5 by Adam Rocke
One of the most important but often overlooked aspects of any literary career is what happens immediately after a publishing deal has been inked—namely, how you deal with your new editor and publisher, which oftentimes is the exact same individual.
Unless the entirety of your literary income is derived from self-published content, thereby making you the sole “judge, jury, and executioner” of your writing, sooner or later you’re going to have to come to terms with one or more creative entities (you hope!) who will likely lord over your submitted material like a mother hen keeping tabs on her precious eggs. And as strange/funny as it sounds, eggs are the perfect descriptor for your work at this point. For until they “hatch”—whereupon those little chicks are released unto the world to do as they please (and hopefully avoid the butcher’s block!)—that mother hen is going to play a very important role in protecting and preparing those eggs for what’s to come. With that understanding in mind, it would serve you well to be on the exact same page with your editor/publisher or, at the very least, come to a solid, mutually appreciable understanding about the future of those incubating dander-fluffed mini-chickens.
Now I’d be committing perjury of the highest magnitude if I suggested that all my previous writer/editor or writer/publisher relationships were nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Hell to the no! And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, the majority of those failed/fragmented associations were entirely my fault—a lethal combination of immaturity, ego, and the misguided thinking that my work was beyond reproach. Unfortunately, many writers in the early stages of their careers follow that same obtuse way of thinking as yours truly, only to experience identical issues with the powers-that-be who are charged with (and get paid for) critiquing and editing your self-described masterpieces. And while I have no doubt that there are a multitude of burgeoning William Shakespeares out there, whose work is pure platinum requiring no changes whatsoever the instant it’s disseminated from brain to page, that is not the case for the vast majority of us. Simply put, you can never have too many eyes on—and too many opinions about—your work.
I said what?!
Humor me, will ya? I’ll make my point, just give me a chance. Allow me to lay the foundation first.
It goes without saying that nobody—not even God himself (or herself, Alanis Morissette not withstanding!)—knows your writing better than you do. Where the inspiration came from. What the characters’ backstories are. Where the story’s headed—or was intended to go. What your underlying meaning is (if any). What you’re trying to suggest or hope to gain by writing it. Those literary delectables are the author’s, and the author’s alone. However—and that’s however with a capital H—just because you embarked on a journey with a specific terminus in mind doesn’t mean you actually arrived at your intended destination. Oh, you might think you’ve gotten there, alright, but considering you’re so close to the material (probably a little too close), there’s a decent chance you missed the mark (by a little or a lot) without even realizing it.
That doesn’t mean your literary skills devolved, or that you got lazy and mailed it in, or any other unflattering reason for failing to connect the dots you originally envisioned. Often, even when working with an outline that’s been tweaked and proofed ad nauseam, writers—being the creative beasts that we are—summon what we deem will be better or more interesting ideas as we write, and the beaten path we originally expected to stay on with both feet firmly planted loses its luster, if only just a teensy bit. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing. Who in their right mind would ever fault a writer for doing what they thought was required to deliver the most entertaining story possible?
But sometimes that fervent attempt at greatness goes awry. Not thinking through act structures. Failing to deliver meaningful character arcs. Overwriting; you’ve no doubt heard the term “Less is more.” No matter what the reason, the creative process of conjuring a story and the actual process of putting that story down on paper (or electronic bits) are two very different, very fluid scenarios. And even though we all do our best to make sure those two processes end up being perfectly intertwined, lining up like equal lengths of Velcro, when you’re done smushing the two sides together you’ll often find you’ve got some overhang on one end, and some indenture on the other. All I’m saying is, and this isn’t very eloquent but… Shit happens.
So now you’ve got a brilliant story/article/poem/book/whatever with a few minor (or maybe even major) flaws. Oh, and you’ve also got a publishing deal (yay!) for it. What to do, what to do? Well, my literary friends, this is where your editor and/or publisher will step in.
Remember what I said about there never being too many eyes on or opinions about your work? That bounty of commentary is about to prove its value.
First rule of being a successful writer: you gotta write.
Second rule of being a successful writer: you gotta be open to the possibility that not everything you write will be perfect.
Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And opinions are like assholes and everyone has one and they all stink. Yada-yada-yada. But the sooner you wash your grey matter of the misguided belief that all editors and publishers are merely failed writers looking to put their stamp on your work, the sooner you can see these creative professionals for what they truly are: very necessary, often invaluable “tools” (in the good sense) that are there to help you improve your craft and put out the best work possible.
This is where I pose the BIG question: What can it hurt to listen to critiques about your work? If you’ve got a thin skin, well, I’m sorry to say the writing game (at least, anything that isn’t self-published) probably—scratch that—DEFINITELY isn’t for you.
So I’ll ask you again: What can it hurt to listen to opinions and thoughts about your work? Doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything that’s said, and I’m certainly not suggesting you make wholesale changes to the material you’ve churned out via gallons of blood, sweat and tears simply because another creative and opinionated person is telling you to do so.
Not even close.
All I’m saying is that you should be open to hearing what others have to say. And try not to react, either, which is much easier said than done. Trust me, I know. I’m a Russian-Italian New York Jew with an expertise in weaponry and a few small literary successes under my belt—when I get feedback that doesn’t immediately jive with my personal opinions, I don’t just see red, I see an ocean of blood with my content floating atop it.
And then I remember to turn off my ego. Close my mouth. And open my mind to the possibilities (there’s that word again) of what’s being suggested. That right there is the “special sauce” to working with an editor or publisher—or anyone who becomes “attached” to your work before it goes to print (or to the screen, or… ???).
Think about it—if just one itsy bitsy note gives you a different perspective on your work, or provides a key that unlocks a secret door—a door you never even knew existed—that you know in your heart of hearts will make your project better, even infinitesimally, don’t you owe it to the project to include it?
Boiling it all down to the nubs… Despite what your pre-programmed “pride of authorship” reptile brain might think, editors and publishers are on the same side as the writers they are working with. The quicker you’re willing to embrace them as allies, and not perceive them as enemies, the quicker your final drafts will morph from good to great.