Editing and Critiques…oh my!

I’m pulling a Carol Burnette and taking questions from the “crowd.” Does anyone else love her as much as me? Or even know who she is? Went With the Wind is my favorite skit ever….YouTube it, people!tumblr_mq5avosuov1qar83lo6_500

Over there in the back, what’s your question?

How do you know when you’re finished editing? It could go on forever!

Yes, yes it could. This is where deadlines help. Unless you not even near the finish line, you’re hitting send to your editor on the due date. That’s a nice, abrupt end to your edit! But, gearing this toward a newer author, I think what you really want to know is when to let go of that manuscript you’ve been working on for months (years)? You query and get a full request from an agent and suddenly you’re convinced your manuscript needs one more pass…and then another. Sending off requested pages or even entering contests can be daunting. Is it ready for prime-time?

I’m going to reference something I heard Eloisa James say, and I apologize that I’m going to have to paraphrase, but basically, she said write the best book you can RIGHT NOW and send it out into the world. This is not to say you shouldn’t study your craft and do your very best, but people (and women especially) aim for perfection and will beat themselves up and hem and haw over every single sentence. Basically, when you are tweaking individual words, you need to let it go.

Here’s the truth: what will get you signed by an agent or your book contracted by an editor is not which verb you picked to use in the last sentence on page seventy-five, it is your VOICE. Is it compelling? Does it draw the reader in and not let them go? Voice matters more than perfect grammar or even plot sometimes. Plot and grammar are fixable; voice is a more elusive creature. (As an aside, I didn’t understand what a dangling participle was until my first editor pointed them out…eek!)

How do you know whether your critique group is helping or hurting?

One thing I’ve learned in the years since I started writing is there is no right or wrong way to approach a manuscript. Some writers I know write 1-3 chapters and send them off to their critique partner or group and wait for feedback before moving on. Some writers have sworn off critique groups/partners.

I fall somewhere in between. I have one critique partner, and I usually “use” her to read projects where I’m stepping out of my usual genre. For most of my manuscripts, I write/edit/turn in without anyone else reading it before my editor, mainly because of those pesky deadlines I mentioned above. Honestly, I usually don’t have the time for someone else to read my manuscript.

My rule of thumb comes from entering somewhere around a million unpublished contests…if the critique makes you feel like crap and question whether or not you should even be a writer, then it has turned toxic. I’ll be honest, some people are toxic by nature. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe someone kicked their dog when they were eight and they have a vendetta against the world. Who knows?! If the feedback resonates and fires new, better ideas, go for it. But, all feedback is not good feedback. Do a gut check. Basically, if you’re excited about the feedback you get and can’t wait to make your manuscript better, then you have a helpful critique relationship. If the feedback makes you want to cry and instills more doubts than optimism, then move on!

Don’t let your critique group/partner become a crutch, and don’t change something just because someone else thinks you should, even a more experienced writer, which leads into my next point…

It’s important to TRUST your stories and your voice. I queried and signed with an agent and sold two manuscripts without having any critique partners, so I’m proof it’s not necessary for success. I learned early on to trust my method and my voice because I had no choice (aka ignorance is bliss:) There will be many, many times after you get published that you won’t have the chance/time for someone else to pat your head and tell you everything looks good before you hit send. And once your’re published, you have to trust yourself enough to weather rejections and bad reviews, because if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, all those flung arrows from outside sources will eventually kill your joy. Don’t let it!

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