Become the Boss of Your Writing
This article might sound like a pep talk, but to become the boss of your writing you might need some pep. And let’s get real here. For many authors, confidence in their writing is not always easy to come by. One bad review can topple your carefully constructed façade and verify your worst fears regardless of the number of positive reviews you have. And if you are a new author, gaining that confidence can be even harder.
So what does this have to do with becoming the boss of your writing? A writer who knows what they want his or her book to be and is able to defend his or her writing is one step closer to becoming the boss.
I’ll relate this to editing because it’s where I see this the most. By the time I begin an edit, I have asked the author a series of questions. This usually includes questions about style preference, target audience, and anything special for the edit in the treatment of words, punctuation, spelling, dialogue, etc. I get a variety of answers to these questions, and it usually gives me an idea of how invested the author is in their manuscript. An author that says they’re okay with whatever I decide because they trust my judgement raises a yellow flag. Yes, I’m flattered that they trust me so implicitly, but it shows me that this author may not be very confident in their writing.
Let me tell you a secret about editors. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t control freaks and we aren’t always right. (I might lose my secret editor decoder ring for that one!) Most editors I know expect and even want their authors to push back a little. The reason for this is that it opens things up for discussion and a flow of new ideas about the story that might have been overlooked. It also lets both the author and the editor see how the other feels about the story. An author who bends to everything an editor or a prereader or a fan suggests, even when their gut tells them not to to do it, will oftentimes have regrets later because they didn’t stay true to their own vision of the story. It’s the author’s name on the cover of the book, so the author should take ownership of the book.
I’m not advocating that authors argue over the placement of every comma or the basic rules of grammar and punctuation or inventing new rules because they think semicolons are ugly. What I am saying is that authors should know their characters and their stories well enough to know when the suggestions offered by anyone are the ones that will improve their work while maintaining their vision of the story. It also means knowing when a suggestion is the right course to take or when a suggestion takes the story or character(s) in the wrong direction.
The relationship between editors and authors is based on trust. Authors trust that editors will make suggestions and corrections designed to improve their books and make them shine. Editors trust that authors will consider all the suggestions and come to them when they don’t understand or disagree. As an editor I recognize that an author is ultimately the expert on their book. It’s the author with the broad vision and the deeper understanding of the backstories and inner workings of the characters and what motivates them. My job is to help the author recognize when those elements haven’t been defined enough or if there’s too much unnecessary information or when the plot or the characterizations need more work.
Most of the confidence in your writing will come with time and experience. But don’t forget that the relationship with your editor can be a great source of confidence building. Editors don’t view their jobs as tearing stories down or apart. They see it as an opportunity to help authors improve their books and their writing. They also hope the relationship will include more than one book. This has less to do with the monetary side of the business and more with the desire to help authors become better writers. It takes time and work.
So the next time you send an editor your manuscript, view it as a partnership where both parties work toward the same goal. And when you find an editor you trust and feel like he or she “gets” you and your work, hold on to them. You may have just found the “other half” of your writing team.
Now it’s your turn to share. Do you take all the suggestions your editor makes or do you push back when you feel it’s not right for your story? What does your editor do to help you gain the confidence to be the boss of your writing? Share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to read them.
Now… go write something!