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[sartorias] on Editorial comments

Originally posted by sartorias at Editorial comments
Linda Nagata talks extensively about dealing with editorial comments. I wanted to ruminate further, but felt it would be rude to blather in a public forum. This is my safe blather place.

I first want to get the every process is different, every editor and editor-and-writer relationship caveat out of the way. The idea here is not to say anyone or thing is wrong. I find that a dead-end discussion.

Red: First Light, which made it to the Nebula finals as the first very small press novels to do so, I believe, was edited by fellow member Judith Tarr. One of the back-med processes of Book View Cafe is editing; again, writers and styles are different, but there are two or three BVC people to whom I turn for editing, and Judith is one of them. (Deborah Ross and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel are the two others. Though we have more editors, I haven't tried some, and others our styles don't jive.)

It's easy to say "I'm an editor"--in fact the Net is full of people offering to editor your books. Whether or not they actually can depends on your point of view: you can look at reviews of traditionally published books, where you know there was an elite team of Ninja editors at work, and see "Where was the editor on this thing? Asleep at the switch!" Followed by reviews that state the work in question was perfection, of course.

I think the editing process works best when the editor takes the time to explain what they are seeing, and why. In BVC, because no one has the authority to say "You have to do what I say or return your advance," there is an opportunity for dialogue.

One of the things Linda brought up is the "This should be a scene" note. Again, writing is not like math. There is no equation for what ought to be a full scene, a half scene, a bit that occurs offstage and gets reported (and discussed) by characters, or the narrative voice summarizes it as part of a transition. Generally speaking, when I employ this Note of Doom (I suspect every writer's heart sinks at least at first when they see it, because after all, they didn't write the scene in the first place) it's because I feel that the narrative voice is telling the reader what to think, which can be felt as a cheat, or else is shortchanging character evolution/emotion.

Of course, sometimes the writer doesn't write the scene, but discovers a place earlier on that can fortify that bit, then the summary snaps into a tight transition.

I don't like to look at reviews of my own stuff until way after the fact (too wince-making when it's too late to fix) but I do look out for reviews of books I edited. And I love seeing praise, though I am an utterly invisible part of that book's process. But the work still feels important even though what the book is saying is not my words.

Career Chat: Writing Progress Goals

One of the most common questions I get asked is how I schedule my writing time. Non-writers often think we either write only when the muse strikes (and then, accompanied by quantities of alcohol, swathed in tobacco or other botanical smoke, and living in the most depressing garret imaginable, surrounded by the wreckage of countless relationships) – or we get up at 7, sit down at the computer/typewriter at 9, take a one-hour lunch break at noon, and work steadily until 5. I am quite sure there are writers who do follow those schedules, but I’m not one of them.

Some writers need long stretches of time to dig deep into their stories. I’m not one of them, either. I’m a slow-and-steady plodder. There’s nothing right or wrong about either way; each writer discovers what’s right for them. So the following comes from my own experience.
If I’m going to write a novel and a couple of short stories every year (or two novels in 18 months), I need to write consistently when I’m in the early drafting stages. All bets are off when I’m writing proposals, rewriting, or revising to editorial order. Most of the time, I find daily goals helpful, so long as they are achievable. I don’t find it at all supportive to post my progress in terms of words of pages. One writer of my acquaintance used to post not only words written but anti-words; words the writer had deleted. I like that the writer acknowledged that not all progress can be measured by the total number of words.

A better goal for me is to write well.Read more...Collapse )

Midwifing A Story: The Trusted Reader

Some writers do all their work in isolation. They are the creative hermits of the literary world. When they get an idea for a story, they tell no one. This isn’t always the misplaced fear that the other person will “steal” their idea. Few ideas are so strikingly original that they have not already been told in a myriad variations. Even if the other person were to write a story on the same idea, the stories would have different executions. Knowing this doesn’t seem to make a difference. Some folks just work better alone. I’ve heard some of them say that if they discuss a work in progress, the very act of telling it aloud dissipates the creative energy: they’ve told the story, so there’s no reward for writing it. Some of them never improve as writers, but others seem able to teach themselves and to produce work of quality.

I’m not one of them.

First of all, I am, as the French say, “très sociable.” I flourish with regular chats with other writers. More importantly, I learned early on in this business that if I am left to my own devices, I will come up with the most dreadful poppycock and think it’s great. My stories will have plot holes you could ride a tyrannosaur through. And let’s not mention grammatical atrocities, inconsistent characterizations…you know the drill. Fortunately, my second and third drafts are a whole lot better than the drivel I throw together as a rough draft. I revise a couple of times, just to get the words on the page into some correlation to the story in my head, before I let anyone else see it.

At some point, however, I need feedback. I need an ally. Better yet, several. I benefit from having a “story midwife” to help me with the process of pushing and squeezing and ruthlessly pruning a story into the form that is most true to my creative vision.

A “story midwife” is someone whose insightful feedback helps me to make the story more fully what I intended it to be. It is not a person who rewrites my work to their own agenda, sabotages my writing efforts in order to make themselves feel good, or who goes about claiming credit for having salvaged or inspired my work. These things happen (and they’ve happened to me), but they’re not only not helpful, they’re potentially devastating. All these things happen because the person reading the story has motives other than being of help to the writer. These folks are often unsuccessful writers themselves.
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Often the person who sees an early draft is not a writer, but an astute reader whose reactions I can trust. Usually it’s best that this not be a relative or close friend. It’s possible those folks could give honest feedback, but more likely than not, they want to make me happy. I don’t want to hear what a fantastic writer I am or that this deformed raw effort is the Great American Novel. I want to know where I lost the reader’s attention, or where I misled or confused or infuriated the reader. I don’t necessarily want to know how to fix the problem or even what the problem is.

Interestingly, when I was a new writer, I tended to discount the feedback of trusted readers because of their lack of writing experience. Whether I knew it or not, I was searching for teachers, not readers. This is an important point. There are many kinds of “story midwives,” and trusted readers are only one. Often, we need different types of feedback at different stages in our growth as writers, or in the development of a specific story. So a beginning writer may need a mentor or teacher and then a skilled editor, as well as a trusted reader.

Now I value the feedback from trusted readers. They are in touch with how they feel and can articulate what thoughts pop into their heads as they read. To me, as an experienced writer, these reactions are pure gold. I’m not looking for explanations of the elements of writing craft (and how I’ve mangled them!). I want to know where I connected with the reader and where I failed. It’s up to me to figure out what the problem is and what I want to do about it. For example, if something wasn’t clear, it could be because I didn’t set up and foreshadow adequately, or it could be that I myself was not clear, that I needed to delve more deeply into the story. If I’m unwise enough to follow advice (uncritically), then I may end up patching up the surface instead of doing the hard work to uncover the diamond within the rough. Trusted readers, by and large, don’t go for the spackle and the duct tape. “I just don’t get this,” is often a prelude to revealing structural flaws, inconsistent motivation, or poorly thought out world-building, all of which I am grateful to know about while the story is still in formation (as opposed to when it’s solidified in print!)

I try to keep all this in mind when I act as a trusted reader for someone else. I try to go along for the ride, noticing when it gets bumpy for me. Some of the things that boot me out of the story or cause me as the reader to lose trust in the writer may not be true for someone else. This mode of reading is more focused than casual reading for enjoyment, but much less analytical then when I’m critiquing. I try my best to leave my editor’s hat at the door.

That said, I’ve sometimes run across stories where the roles change or blur. I set out to read a story with one intention in mind but find it requires a different level of engagement and feedback. I cannot overstate it enough that changing gears requires clear communication! I’ve been on both ends – giving and receiving – of an unannounced and unwelcome switch. In one instance, several decades ago when I didn’t know any better, a fairly new writer asked what I thought of a story that had been published in a fanzine. I gave the writer a thorough critique, analyzing the structure and peppering the manuscript with suggestions, when all the writer had wanted to know was if I’d enjoyed it. Now, unless what the writer expects is clear from the beginning, I will say, “What kind of feedback do you want?” And as a trusted reader, I strive to be trustworthy.

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss other “story midwives:” critiquers, beta readers, editors, and those who carry us through difficult times with their support.

The painting is by Jules Ernest Renoux (1863-1932)
I knew Art Holcomb decades ago -- gosh, have we been around that long? -- and always respected his insight into writing and publishing. He's a guest blogger over at Larry Brooks's "Storyfix" and has some interesting things to say. He doesn't address how to write, but rather the equally important question of what attitudes and habits comprise a professional attitude.

My favorite is Don't Wait For Perfect. Perfect is the enemy of done. And it's also toxic to the creative space so many of us need -- the self-confidence to try new things, but the insecurity to look critically at what we've done. Being a writer (for me, anyway) is a high-wire act, holding that paradox. Perfectionism slams me into paralysis. I have to be willing to be incredibly imperfect in order to take the risks to be great.
I wrote this essay in 1997, when the world of publishing was very different from what it is today. Back then, who could have anticipated the revolution in epublishing and the way it has given rise to self-publishing and independent publishers. Upon reflection, however, I think it's worth considering. Let me know what you think!

Many recent articles in newsletters, magazines and websites describe the dire state of publishing and the difficulties which writers face in order to break in, let alone survive or flourish. Conventional wisdom resonates with images of loss and scarcity:

"The midlist is dead!"

"IDs (Independent [Book] Distributors) have imploded!"

"If a single book fails, your entire career is finished unless you change your name!"

"Media tie-ins and franchised universe fiction are squeezing out original work on bookstore shelves!"

The background to these declarations is grim. Approximately 50% of all novels marketed as first novels are in fact written by established writers seeking to escape from poor sales figures. This situation benefits publishers because they then need pay only first-novel level advances for solid, midlist‑level books. The average advance has not increased in a decade, while those for a few, more highly promoted books have skyrocketed, further fueling the "boom or bust" polarization. Bookstore chains occupy an increasingly large share of the market and their computerized ordering practices base advance orders on the author's previous sales. Some critically‑acclaimed books sell so poorly that their authors have difficulty finding a publisher for their next work. In this age of micro-management by distant multiglomerate corporations, the success of a book can be determined before it appears on the shelves. Publishers hold "autopsy" conferences to discuss why a book which they believed would do well "failed" in terms of sales.

Advice is easily given in an atmosphere of unspoken desperation. Sometimes the suggested tactics succeed: a byline change or a switch to a more commercial form of fiction may rejuvenate an author's sales or at least subsidize more serious writing. Too often, however, such changes are proposed and undertaken without consideration of their emotional implications. Well‑meaning advice gives special privilege to forces which are inherently beyond a writer's control and which have to do with merchandising, not creativity. The writer who follows such advice unsuccessfully is particularly vulnerable to feelings of guilt, regret, loss of artistic identity, and betrayal ("having sold out.")Read more...Collapse )
Sylvia Kelso interviewed me on writing and stuff. Some cool questions. We had fun!

Kelsoglyphs : the Home Page of Sylvia Kelso

Today's Reflection on Writing

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.

--Barbara Kingsolver
Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.


Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.

J. R. R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Language, the Psychology of Fantasy, and Why There’s No Such Thing as Writing “For Children” | Brain Pickings

The story-behind-the-story of NORTHLIGHT

Since Northlight is on sale for $1.00 off at Book View Cafe, here from the archives is some background on how I wrote this book.

After I submitted Jaydium, which was to become my first published novel, I began work right away on my next project. Or rather, I took a look at all the ideas and characters which were screaming inside my skull to be made into stories and tried to decide which one would cause me the most anguish if I didn't work on it first. High on my list was to rewrite the last novel I'd written before Jaydium. It had received careful attention, not to mention three single-spaced pages of critical feedback, from the editor who would later buy Jaydium.

I felt that if an editor had taken that much time and trouble with the book, there was something of value, something that perhaps I was now a good enough writer to bring out fully.

The book's working title was Weiremaster, and it was based on the world of my very first professional short story, "Imperatrix", which appeared in the debut Sword & Sorceress anthology. Weires are bipedal ape-like creatures, seven-feet tall, fanged, silver-furred, immensely powerful and receptively telepathic. In the world of "Imperatrix," they obey people of imperial blood. For the purposes of that short story, no further explanation was needed.

Now, years later, my world-building had matured. I wanted to know how these creatures had come into a human world, how the control worked, and how the dynastic characteristic had been established. I concocted an adventure which would lead my hero into the world of the Weires and back home again, changed. He would carry me -- and the reader -- along with him, a classical hero-quest. 

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