I’ll Show You Mine

Writers Museum

Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. In Lady Stair’s House. Photo by Jeremy Keith.

Recently, I handed off a scene from last year’s NaNoWriMo to a professional editor. It was a nerve-wracking experience.

Now, I’ve shared my stories with others before: friends, writing buddies, family (once in a while), even strangers. I don’t stress about feedback from any of those folks. They receive my stories as a chunk of text to absorb, and, for the most part, their feedback is a simple, “I liked it,” or “I didn’t.” We may go into slightly more detail than that, but it’s often conversational, with comments painted in pretty broad strokes.

A professional edit, though, picks a story apart scene by scene, line by line, word by word. That’s good. It helps a writer step outside the confines of their little self-imposed world, to have someone examine that world with a sharp, precise knife and cut where necessary. They may do a little triage, too, to keep the story pumping. I’d trust an editor – especially a good one, like I was lucky enough to get – to do that.

When I received the pages back and finished reading through all the comments, I wanted to scuttle back into my NaNo hole and tear the whole story apart again. Not because I was crushed or demoralized by those red marks. Because those red marks showed me there was something there. And I wanted to fight for it. I wanted to dig deeper into myself and that world and those characters, and make the story better. Because, with those fixes and suggestions, I knew it could be so.

I didn’t think I’d pick up that story again. It was a first draft, and first drafts always need work. But, when I crossed the NaNo finish line last year, I thought, Good enough. Now, I know how wrong I was. The best bit? The editor never came out and told me I could do better. It was everything between the lines: all the little ticks and tacks that – when I saw them – I knew were right.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried. The editor’s feedback was great. Not to say it was all glowing praise, because it wasn’t that. Rather, it was observant, critical, and helpful, what a proper edit should be. And, just reading through the comments for that one scene made me realize the story wasn’t all  it could be.

I wasn’t all I could be.

So, I decided to take the pages back and start over. Not from scratch, because I do like a lot of the story already. But the suggestions and observations are with me every time I start to play in that world again. And when I play in all my other worlds, too.

The story may never be great, or a bestseller, or even publishable. But I can make it better than it was before.
Better. Stronger. Faster. Dah-na-na-naa! Dah-na-na-na-na Na-na-na-naa!

What words of wisdom do you have for a hopeful aspirant? Got stories of your own to share? Want to trade? Let me know!

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8 thoughts on “I’ll Show You Mine

  1. Empowering post, Mayumi, for you and for any other writer out there reading this. I remember my first critique, and I did crawl into my shell never wanting to see the light of day again. Not really because the critter tore apart my work, but the idea that I didn’t do a good enough job was shocking to my 17-year-old self. 😉

    Now that I’m (much) older, I can handle the red marks. A not-so-great comment still stings, always will, but I know how to put it into perspective so that I can write better next time.

    Sounds like you’re in a really good writing place, Mayumi. I’m glad about that.

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    • Thanks, Kate. Truly, I have good days and not-so-good days overall, as everyone does. But, where my writing is concerned, I have good, strong feelings about it. I may not go into the publishing game, but it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed seeing a brighter horizon in the distance. You know, so long as I’m willing to work for it. 🙂

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  2. It’s funny, I’ve recently thought about going back to my NaNo story. I haven’t looked at it again since the end of November. I think I’ve been reluctant because I’m worried it’s going to be a load of rubbish! It will certainly be fresh eyes looking at it now after several months have passed, I’m sure I’ll read sections that I can’t remember writing at all. I do really believe in the premise of the story, but I’m not sure that I will have executed it anywhere near well enough!

    It is a bit scary asking for critiques, but often the feedback is so valuable and can make all the difference.

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    • Thanks, Vanessa. I agree about the fresh eyes…and the scariness of seeing nonsense and trash on the page! But, it’s still fun to read over something written in such a rush, it feels completely new. 🙂

      I need to ask for critique more often. I just need to find myself a good partner!

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  3. To have any chance at being a truly good author, we need those objective professional-level edits.And sometimes we have to make a difficult decision—can we make the changes needed to make the story the best it can be, or do we put it aside as a learning experience. That’s what I’m facing with one of my WIPs. The decision will vary from writer to writer and even from work to work by a single writer. But it’s not an easy one.

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    • Not easy at all, JM, but you’re right: invaluable. I don’t know if I’ll pursue this project to a publishing stage, but just those few pages of edits really helped me a lot. A weird thing about it is that I could read a blog post with those same points, but I won’t feel nearly as empowered as I did with that personal, direct-to-me touch.

      Good luck with your WIPs! It’s heartening to hear I’m not alone. 🙂

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  4. I still get scared to show my work to my friends, even when they have huge smiles on their faces and point out parts that made them laugh. I’m even more scared of the idea of actually putting anything out there to be corrected. I know that I’ve been okay with experienced fellow writers and editors, but the fear is still there.

    So, to hear that experienced editors are actually helpful and won’t tear pieces of work to shreds, I feel a little better. You are a brave one to send it out, I have to say. Even more inspiring is seeing that you actually went back to make your piece better!

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    • Thanks, spooney. I’m still in the working phase, but the edits were so helpful, they truly did make me want to do better.

      Honestly, I still haven’t really graduated from the safe stage of sharing my work. My (online) friends give me good feedback, but I also think we’re accustomed to being more supportive than critical. The Internet is so broad and open, it actually makes specifics rather difficult, both to offer and to receive. That’s why I was so surprised and grateful about the depth and thoughtfulness of those professional edits.

      Finding a good editor that fits you/your story is key, I think. Someone who meshes well with your style and “gets” you is going to be important. I’ve heard editors themselves say they can’t offer the exact same kind of skill to every project.

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