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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!