There I was, just whistling down the primrose path, working through the problems in my manuscript that I’d identified during a Revision Sprint class and the subsequent weeks of revision. I didn’t mean to do it. Really, I didn’t think it would happen! But as I updated the final scene sequence of novel 1 of my Victorian Romance series, the next to last step (last step being read-through/proofreading) before sending it to a content editor, I realized it had happened.
I am in love with my story.
Now, being in love with your story in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, during the long, dark days that try writers’ souls, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is our love for our stupid, ugly, misshapen mess of a (kind of, sort of, almost) story. But to spin the story mess into gold, at some point most writers will want input from other smart people, fresh eyes on the story to catch what we who are too close to it just can’t see. Those other people might be individual critique partners, members of a critique group, or a content editor (as ladies Jeanne and Jilly).
For this particular story, I plan to work with a content editor. Sounds great, you say. Should help clean up the hot mess, you think. So what’s the problem? you might ask. Well, as book coach and founder of Author Accelerator Jennie Nash can tell you, the best times to get in-depth analysis and feedback on a book is either during development as with a book coach or developmental editor, or when the story is complete but not yet cemented in your psyche as the story.
Think of the story as a clay. When it’s still a wet lump and you start forming it into some sort of shape, it’s still malleable enough to change pretty easily. At this stage, the developmental editor, book coach, or chapter-by-chapter critique partner can make suggestions that the writer still has the brain-space to consider and perhaps incorporate. Once the the clay has been spun around on the potter’s wheel and formed into a pot, it’s shape is pretty set. At this stage, changing it’s shape or other foundational elements as suggested by critiquers or a content editor will be more difficult, but a smart writer can parse through the recommendations. (This is the approach Jilly is taking with her content edit.)
Sometimes, though, the writer works the clay until it’s starting to dry, through deep-dive revisions and multiple passes to get the story ‘good enough’ to send out for critique. But a weird thing happens as you prod it into shape and attach the handle and…OK, obviously not a potter here and I’m losing the metaphor. The point is, there comes a point with every story where it’s just going to be damn hard to fix anything beyond the surface cosmetic problems. Which is fine if you’ve somehow crafted a masterpiece, but not so fine if it turns out there are deep, structural issues and fixing those issues would make the story stronger.
So, I’m somewhere between ‘clay still wet and malleable’ and ‘baked in the kiln’, but probably closer to the kiln than I should be. Still, I’m going to send this sucker to a content editor and brace myself for the editing letter. I’m a big girl and can do the requisite pants pulling up. But if there are deep flaws to address, damn, it’s going to be hard. Probably harder than it should be. After a year of (almost) exclusively drinking decaf, I might have to stock up on caffeinated coffee again.
But hey, nobody ever said this writing gig would be easy. Well, someone probably said it, but that someone probably never finished making a clay pot. Or writing a book.