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Picture this. You’ve just opened the email from your editor. The one you’ve been waiting for and obsessing about for weeks. There is maybe a tiny piece inside you that hoped you’d get a few suggestions for minor change and a big helping of ‘you are the most amazing, naturally gifted writer I’ve ever read’.
First, you open the critique letter because you want the quick summary. Your hopes (formerly somewhere north of Mt. Everest’s peak) begin to plummet.
“Main character needs more work. He feels flat and two dimensional.”
“Your villain is too cliche.”
Your heart drops and your expectations plunge toward the earth. But then you see a comment like, “Really great sections of dialogue,” and you find a kernel of hope.
But then you read something like, “the entire ending of your novel needs to be reworked.”
Queue the descent into abject despair. All that work, all the blood, sweat and tears. And for what. Everything sucks. The positive phrases that you read moments ago that gave you hope now ring false. Obviously the editor was just trying to say something nice so you wouldn’t start searching for the nearest bridge. Or bar.
Before you go searching for the bottom of a whiskey bottle, stop and think. What you need is perspective.
Sometimes I put my manuscript and all my feedback (once I’ve read through it and cried over it seventeen times!) in a virtual drawer. I refuse to look at it sometimes for weeks if that’s what it takes to find some distance.
When I got edits back on my first novel, I couldn’t look at it for 4 months. Four!!
The first time receiving editorial feedback was the hardest. I felt like a failure as a writer and as a person. How could I be so stupid as to think I could write a book? I questioned everything, every dream, every hope, every goal, every idea.
It was too painful to even think about. And my editor was gentle. She was honest and offered great insight into the issues with my book and did it in a way that in no way attacked my worth as a human and yet I still felt terrible. She was careful to point to the things I had done well but I couldn’t see that. I only saw the criticism.
And so I looked away from the horror show that my book clearly was. And it took four months for me to find the courage to take another look.
Here’s the greatest thing about those 4 months. My story and her feedback percolated inside my overly sensitive brain when I was awake and when I was asleep. When I picked up my dusty manuscript all those months later, I had achieved the distance I needed to look at it objectively. I proceeded to cut 30,000 words of my 55,000 word manuscript (gasp!) and then gently, painstakingly took it back up to 80,000 words. And it was a better book by the end. No question about it.
None of my other critiques needed a four month waiting period. But they all needed some. As I’ve done this more and more, the critiques are much easier to process. Sometimes I only need a couple of hours or even a few minutes. Other times, I’ll take a few days.
It takes what it takes. And I give each book the space it needs, the distance from myself it requires, for my thoughts to settle down and to develop an approach to tackle the edits.
The most important thing you can do when you get your edits back is view your editor’s notes as the path to a better version of your book not that you are a failure.
And remember, you aren’t paying her to tell you are amazing. You are paying her to tell you how to make it amazing.
Don’t give up, but don’t be afraid to take a moment (or 4 months) to get the right perspective around your project.
Remember, you created the idea from the ether, you built the story world and breathed life into your characters. You are the god of your story. You don’t need to be afraid of no stinking edits.
You got this!
For tips and classes to improve your skills, check out the self-publishing intensive over at LearnSelfPublishingFast.com. You need something to do while your novel rests, right?
Auburn Seal is the author of eight books including historical fiction, cozy mystery, paranormal romance, and science fiction. She doesn't believe in dipping her toe in the water of experimentation, but rather jumping in and making the biggest splash possible. Her first book, Roanoke Vanishing, was published in 2013. Discover more about Auburn and her various projects at www.auburnseal.com