Patience, Tender Writer

As a journalism student in college, I learned several lessons about patience, deadlines, and editors. First of all, editors have no patience with late or sloppy writers. And deadlines are everything.

Often within the span of hours, a newspaper reporter has to come up with a story idea, pitch it to the news desk, research it, conduct interviews, write and deliver a compelling story, allowing enough time for the editor to do his/her thing. In this case, there is no time at all for them to mollycoddle. They might read the first sentence and toss it back at you. “This sucks. Rewrite it.”

Or, things like “It’s wordy.” “You buried the lead.” “Move paragraph three to the top and start over.” Or just, “Nope.” And don’t even think about a clever ending, because it very likely will get cut to make space for a last-minute ad placement.

Growing a Thicker Skin

Such treatment definitely helps tender writers grow thicker skins. But for those whose path to writing has bypassed this rewarding experience, the first time their precious work is edited can be a painful experience. And here’s where patience comes in.

If the editor returns your work quickly, you can suffer the quick rip of the bandage and get back to work much more easily than if they sit on it for weeks and months. Take their suggestions seriously. We all need an objective viewpoint, and what we think does not always come across clearly in what we write. One day you will love your editor.

We all need an objective viewpoint. Click To Tweet

If they take a few weeks or longer to return your work, you can feel stuck in the mud, no place to turn. You’ll manufacture scenarios. They must hate it. They can’t bear to read it. They never made it past the first page and threw it down. Why else would it take so long? Or, maybe they love it, they can’t think of anything constructive to say? What if it’s so good, they are already showing it to an agent, or a movie producer? What if someone gets hold of it and is sending you a contract right now?

Oh, the creative mind does wander. Click To Tweet

Oh, the creative mind does wander.

An editor may do all sorts of things, like add your work to the bottom an already impossible pile. Read it in small bits between trips to the grocery store and childcare. Read it once, set it aside for a week or so, and then read it again to see if their impressions have changed. Fill in the blank with any number of scenarios. Editors are humans after all and have their own priorities.

Feedback is necessary. Suffering is optional. Click To Tweet

But whether well-seasoned or new, a writer is not required to suffer.

Some tips to help the impatient

Patience, for me, is almost an offensive swear word, but I know it’s my challenge to conquer. Here’s what has worked for me so far.

Expect the best, but prepare for the worst

If you’re new to writing and haven’t been edited before, your best course of action is the same as preparing for a hurricane. You’ve done your best; now let it go. Feedback will come quickly or slowly according to wind speed, but come it will. When it does, stand up and take it. Repair after.

Distract yourself

I always have several other projects that need my attention. Right now there are eleven items on my desk, not including this post and the stacks of family photos I’m supposed to scan. Immersion in any one of them will take my mind off the waiting, and hopefully reduce the number of projects staring back at me. I get frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed, but I am never bored.

Get physical

My absolute favorite is to go outside and weed the flowerbeds. I mean weed them, rip those suckers out with brute force. It’s a form of editing and can be immensely satisfying. Plus, you can see your accomplishment before you; what you managed to uncover is more beautiful than when you started. Immediate gratification. Um, you could also just go for a swim.

Pleasure and relaxation

My go-to for this is chocolate and a walk on the beach, maybe some shopping, and if I am really brain-frazzled, just an old movie and a blanket. I don’t recommend alcohol; it’s depressing and highly detrimental to brain cells, especially the creative ones. Ice cream or a magnificent espresso concoction will do the trick much better. As will a massage.

When the feedback arrives — whether you like it or not — put on your big kid pants and deal. Be grateful someone took the time to read your work and pay careful attention to it. You worked very hard on it. You want it to shine. Editors do too.

5 Ways to Love Your Editor

When members of writers’ groups become friends, a wide variety of unintended consequences can arise. Catching-up on life can overtake story reading and feedback can become diluted. The line between encouragement and useful feedback can disappear. It’s easy to sit around and laugh and say “kill your darlings….” easy, that is, until the executioner editor comes along and kills them for you.

If you’ve never experienced a good, hard edit it can be a jolt.  It can leave even the most competent of writers with a lump in the throat and feeling a tad sick to the stomach. This is true, too, if the most recent feedback you’ve received is on stuff you published 108 years ago.

There's a gulf between what the writer writes and what gets read. A good, hard edit can be a real jolt. Click To Tweet

Well-meaning family members can also contribute to your big letdown. They tend to offer the sought-after but completely useless phrases “I like it” or “It’s good.”

What the Writer Writes vs. What Gets Read

There’s a gulf between what the writer writes and what gets read. The developmental editor is tasked, in part, with bridging that gap. Not only is she your first line of defense against total embarrassment, but she is also tasked with reading your submission in multiple ways. First and foremost, she will read it as a prospective reader. Are there things that stayed in the writer’s head? That never made it to the page? The brain’s tendency to self-correct won’t allow you to see those for yourself.

Well-meaning family members can contribute to a big letdown about your #WIP They offer the sought-after but completely useless phrases *I like it* or *It’s good.* Click To Tweet

She will make a pass-through for redundancy and obvious factual errors. She will determine whether or not the order is correct. And she will likely save you from embarrassing beginner mistakes such as a “forward,” prologue and epilogues. Just start — or end — the damned story already. And, once upon a time “foreword” was the most frequently misspelled words in finished volumes. (It’s not ‘forward’ as in ‘forward movement’ but ‘foreword’ as in ‘the word that comes before.’)

A Different Set of Questions

Some editors also employ proof-reading software and beta-readers at this stage. These are not tools to be used in place of his judgment, but simply to offer some back-up and raise a different set of questions.

Different editors work in different ways. Some will redline the heck out of something you think is perfect and bounce it back to you. However, if you’re working on a tight deadline or there are many authors involved, the editor may take on a role resembling that of a ghostwriter. In this capacity, she will try to capture your voice and intent… to make sure the page reflects what you meant to say.

Having worked both ways, I can assure you that neither one feels good — and, when I’m open to the process — both teach me a lot about becoming a better writer.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some things to keep in mind when working with an editor at this stage:

  1. DO check your ego at the door. The reason any of us has any sort of editor is that we cannot view our work objectively. This is not a criticism — it’s just how the human brain actually works. The writer sees what he or she meant to put on the page — editors see what actually made it.
  2. DO keep your eyes on the prize. The editor’s goal is the same as yours: to create the highest quality, most reader-friendly document possible. Nobody is criticizing you or trying to hurt your feelings.
  3. DO remember what your spouse may have said: sometimes your jokes just aren’t funny.
  4. DO take a step back. It’s easy to do contradict your own style, to split an infinite, to misplace a modifier, to miss a cut and paste error, to trust spellcheck when you shouldn’t, to inadvertently change voices or points of view….
  5. DON’T argue. Editing is just as hard as writing. Editors don’t need to get beat up by your intention or inspiration. They’re not unfriendly, they just don’t care — it’s not their job to care about those things. If they added or deleted something to your piece, it’s simply because it wasn’t working the other way.

Remember, nobody wants to hurt your feelings — and somebody needs to kill your darlings. If you don’t, your editor will. Print lasts a long time.

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