I just finished revisions to my story Tree Gods last week. My edit letter came back on February 6th, along with the commented MS. I was so excited to get it. Whenever one works with a new agent, new CP, or new Beta reader, there’s that rush of enthusiasm. This person really gets me! This person will understand exactly what I’m trying to do and get me there! This person has this incredible magic elixir which they will sprinkle on my words that will make them smell like roses and cut like thorns! Yayyyyy—ugh.
Y’all know what the ugh, is, don’t you?
Because when that person really gets me, my story, exactly what I’m trying to do, and how hard it can be to get there, they DO have that incredible magic elixir, and it’s called “I love this—but”. Then it’s up to you, the writer, to get rid of the but. Or butt, depending.
So, what did I do after receiving my edit letter?
Well, frankly, I was completely miserable. Not because I didn’t know the changes were necessary to give the story a decent shot at selling, and not because I was angry at having to do the work. I love rewrites. I love solving problems, taking advice and using it to hone my vision. I enjoy arguing changes out and seeing things either get better or worse due to those changes and fixing them. I love everything about this part of revising except the emotional firestorm that is an inevitable part of the process for me.
I cried all Friday. I didn’t eat much for three days. I didn’t sleep very well. For about 24 hours I had a couple of characters screaming at me about the proposed changes. I had nightmares about my story and rewrites. This happens whenever I get feedback—whether it’s hard and unhelpful, hard and helpful, or hard and doggone-it-you’re-right-I hate-you. It’s absolutely normal for me to do this.
I worked very hard to create that vision that’s now open for critical eyes. It’s a part of my soul, whether I like it or not. And when someone tells you your creative soul is “off” in some way, it hurts, whether it’s true or not. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t this attached to my work, but it’s part of who I am as a person and a writer. Either I can hate that about myself or I can embrace it. I choose to embrace it.
Also, I can’t shift into problem solving mode until I’ve got the negative emotions out of the way. In fact, it would be a very bad thing if I didn’t get sad/mad. Those emotions help fuel my drive to write my best work, to fight until my vision is clear, and to take feedback I don’t like and turn it into the best parts of my story. I need that raw, angry unhappiness to stoke the fire that comes around seventy-two hours later that puts me behind the laptop with both energy and a plan for action.
Deep down, I know I can’t kill my story. If I make a bad stroke during revision, I can fix it. A story isn’t stained glass. It’s clay, and like clay, it can be molded, cut, filled in, piled on, taken off, and as long as it isn’t baked yet, it’s fine.
So, because I know this about me and my process, I have learned to do a few things when it comes to accepting feedback—good or bad.
First—I had outside activities that weekend. While it’s not fun to cry in public, at least it’s allergy season. I got a pass for sniffling from time to time and having very red eyes. I was driving four hours a day all weekend long. I was exhausted. By the time I crashed Sunday night, I was too tired to care about anything but bed. Staying busy helps me when it comes to feedback. When I’m in the emotional state of things, I shouldn’t be problem solving. I simply won’t know what to do. Everything will be reactionary. I need to redirect my energy. This can be drafting something new, writing poems, or cleaning out that closet that’s been on the to-do list for months—okay, years. But I have to do something that isn’t working on that story.
Secondly—I refused to email my agent anything other than a “Thanks, this is going to be hard, but I’ll do what I can” until I had sorted things out. But boy, you should have seen that sorting out process! I opened a word document and wrote 5000 words stating how hard the changes were going to be, why they hurt, and if I felt they would or would not work. I needed the catharsis. I howled to my CPs and editing partners. That’s all helpful. But I put that buffer of time and space between myself and the person who wouldn’t have given that feedback if she didn’t care about me and my story!
Feelings and emotions are valid. They need to be felt. I needed to get them out. Because you know what happened while getting all that out on the page? I remembered why this story needs to be told. I remembered why I wanted to tell it. I remember that there is only one person who could write this story, and that’s me, because I care. Because I could reaffirm that, I could also transition to the state of mind where I could see changes as good for my story. They would be my own changes, made with my personal goals in mind.
Thirdly—I planned out my time for the changes. I did this about 48 hours after the initial screaming period. I pulled out my calendar, and thought about what kind of time I might need for revisions. I figured what I could do based on the biggest developmental things that were suggested. I began to come up with compromises for developmental suggestions where I knew I wouldn’t get full cooperation from the characters. I drafted an email with those potential compromises and asked for a time-table without giving my own. I knew what I could do based on having done substantial edits to an MS before, but I wanted to see if that was about right or too slow. Turned out my time-table was about two weeks faster than the first deadline. Awesome. If I’d needed more time to do what I wanted to do, I’d have had it.
Fourth—I sat down on Monday and started with the easy things. I sent a copy of my MS to one of my CPs and gave her one objective for reading, and she had the whole thing turned around for me inside of a week. By that time, I was already working on most of the places she felt could handle the recommended changes. I then picked out four major scenes for the subplot and pulled them out of the MS for targeted work. Once they were done, I plugged them back into the story, and read them aloud to see how they worked. The characters cooperated better than I imagined they would because of the compromises I offered, and put in those scenes. That smoothed the rest of the editing substantially.
So… it took me three weeks of hard work, putting in between 6-8 hours of writing seven days a week, but I have a shorter and hopefully stronger MS.
Is it perfect?
Will there be another edit letter with suggestions on how to make it better?
Will I go through all this turmoil again?
It’s all part of writing the best story I can write.
Know yourself. It’s the key to turning feedback torture into a crucible of creation.