Friday, July 22, 2011

Editing: The Hard Way

Sit down now, minions, and I'll tell you a tale of woe and frustration, but one that has a silver lining.

Way back in October of 2008 (two-thousand and EIGHT, y'all!) I had an idea. A shiny new idea about a girl and a boy and the adventure they shared, and the love that blossomed between them. Sure, that story has been done to death, but my take has a unique twist. When I started out, the words just poured out of me. Words that didn't always make sense, or seem to fit the tone. By the time I'd finished, and mustered the courage to show it to betas, I was worried about some of those words.

Not the ones that made up my plot, or the dialogue (though all that has since gotten a major overhaul), but the words that contributed to my STYLE.

Problem was, I didn't trust myself.

When I got back a few crits back that recommended killing some of my darlings, I lost what little confidence I'd had in my ability to turn a phrase. This was not the fault of my critters, by any means. Those darlings were begging for it anyway. But over time, the editing demons nipped away at me. I felt the need to homogenize my work, to make my mc sound more like an average teen. To reduce the writing to plots and characters and dialogue and get rid of all those darlings that abounded.

But the problem here was, they weren't all darlings. In my attempt to regulate my character voice, I'd slowly stripped away all my authorial voice. I'd undermined my own work because I felt the need to try and write like someone I'm not. I wanted to make my Evangeline as snarky as some of the other teen heroines out there, but she just ain't a snarky girl. BIG mistake. So now, my manuscript for EVANGELINE has some consistency issues. Subconsciously I was aware of this fact, but had no idea why, or how to rectify it.

Luckily, my rock-star agent and her awesome assistant noticed what was happening with the voice in my recent revision, and commented on it. And let me tell you, they are some patient ladies, willing to work with me through every edit to develop this story from "good" to "great". Pretty much the only thing standing in my way right now is myself. Or, more accurately, the changes in voice I'd made over time. The last thing I want to publish is a book that isn't genuinely mine.

In my desire to write like someone else (not even one person, but multiple people, which is even worse for consistency), I totally robbed myself of my own advancements in style. For a long time I thought that the editing process was squeezing the individuality out of me, but it wasn't. In my misguided attempt to write what I thought others wanted from me, I was moving farther and farther from my ideal story.

Only now do I feel like I'm finally getting "my" story back. And it wasn't because of any criticism anyone gave. It was just my own lack of faith in myself. Since then, my editing demons have taken wing, probably to go pester one of y'all. Sorry about that.

So here's the moral of this story. Have faith in yourself and don't read too much into reviews unless you hear from multiple betas that you need to make a change. It's funny, but this realization that I actually CAN write made me feel like a huge weight lifted off me. This has been the most important realization in my entire writing process, a cathartic epiphany.

So, what epiphanies have y'all had about your writing lately? I'm thinking everyone should have at least one. ;)


Cynthia Lee said...

I realized a few months ago that I need to listen to my instincts. I knew that the first three chapters of my manuscript needed serious editing but I didn't listen to myself and I was, admittedly, eager to begin querying and not so eager to do more revising.

I just got ahead of myself, didn't listen to myself, a common mistake among writers, I suspect.

So, I guess, my epiphany was not doing all that.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

Oh man, I am SO WITH YOU. It's really, really hard not to compare yourself to other writers--not to want to write the way that THEY do because they write so awesomely. I've struggled a lot with that, but my new WIP has brought me back on track. Mostly, ha.

Finding that faith in myself is a daily struggle. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I drink ;-)

Krispy said...

OMG, I wonder about this stuff all the time. For me it's because I like language, so I like lingering descriptions and pretty turns of phrase and the rhythm of words in creating a scene or feeling. These are things that are normally seen as the "darlings" one must kill in the revision process, and that has always kind of freaked me out because I feel like those lyrical qualities are what constitutes my "voice" when I'm writing. So it's good to see I'm not the only one who feels like this. :)

So glad you had your epiphany and that Evangeline is starting to sound the way you want her to sound.

Alexandra Shostak said...

It's funny, but I really needed to read this today. I was having a severe battle with my inner critic, which was insisting that I needed to take out some of what makes my story ME to make it more commercial (or what I think is more commercial--nobody even made these suggestions, they just came from my head).

I've noticed that it's especially hard when I receive an otherwise good critique, that's generally very spot-on, and then perhaps there's just one small part of it that doesn't quite fit with my novel, but often I'm so overwhelmed by how on the rest of the critique was I don't immediately see these little places. Then I wonder why something isn't clicking.

It is really hard not to take on the voice of what's popular, of or authors we admire. It can be subconscious, too, which is even scarier.

Dominique said...

I do my best to try to avoid sounding like someone else when I write, although I can't say I'm always successful. It's enough of a challenge to make sure all the characters are themselves, instead of me seven different ways.

My current epiphany is in the process of happening, as I'm working on something new at the moment, and I'm doing something I've never done before. I feel like I'm on the verge of something, but I don't know what. We'll see how it goes.

Good luck with further revisions. :)

Tess said...

It is hard to know the difference between the internal critic and the internal editor. An important distinction that we as writers need to define. I am continually working on it...

glad you are finding your story again. that is a great feeling.

Lola Sharp said...

I know so SO many writers struggle with this, thus I'm grateful that you wrote this lovely and honest post.

Luckily, this isn't really something I struggle with. (My author voice and my ME-ness w/ regard to writing is something I have always been comfortable with) And I always stay true to my character's voice. They show themselves to me and I try to stay organic to them.
My areas of stress and worry is always structure related.. and my perfectionism....the fester fester festering I do during revisions make it hell for me. It's like I always know I can do it's never 'done'. There's always more layers and subtlety I can add, yanno?

Thank for being YOU. Because I like YOU just the way YOU are. <3

(and I'm still crossing my fingers and toes for me the minute you know)


Icy Roses said...

This is such an encouraging post, because I think we all are struggling when we write and edit to make the distinction between what changes need to be made and what part of our uncertainty is just insecurity. Thanks for sharing!

Missed Periods said...

Your blog has such a smart, strong voice, so it's great that you found your way back to it.

Amber Cuadra said...

This sounds kind of like my editing story. Only I didn't have other people helping me, it was just me. I was on the third draft of my fantasy novel and I wanted to make it sound like a grand epic, because I had enough back story and material to make it a grand epic fantasy, but I was losing the story and the characters in the muddle of history. My style is to write very character centered stories, not plot/history/backstory centered stories, and I realized that novel isn't supposed to be epic. It's supposed to be about the characters.

I hope your revision goes well!

Anonymous said...

I used to try to adopt other people's styles before finding my own. And I once revised a manuscript so much that I lost its voice, so it became a drawer manuscript. :( Nowadays I'm more confident about my writing and I use feedback that fits the vision of my manuscript.

JEM said...

Excellent story, and thanks for sharing. It took me FOREVER to realize I didn't have to change my story just because one person (or sometimes even multiple people) said they didn't like something. When I first started receiving feedback I made every change they suggested because I thought I had to. I thought if someone said it, it must be true, and I have to change it. It's only in the last couple of months (and especially on the current WIP) that I've started sifting through the feedback to decide what I want to change vs. what I will agree to disagree on. It's kind of liberating to know you have a choice about your own work :).