Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goodbye, my precioouuusssssss...

Wearing the editor hat doesn’t necessarily guarantee that my writing is perfect once I don the author hat. Granted, I am the first to admit that I am an anally retentive fruitbat have wicked self-editing skills and I catch *most* gremlins. But my writing is filled with unicorns and rainbows *does* need work. Problem is, I’m often so close to my own story that I can’t see the obvious issues with, say, characterisation or pacing.

Case in point…

A few months ago I got a request for a revise and resubmit (R&R) from a prominent publisher of quality LGBT fiction. I read the letter. Saw the editor in question mention that she hated destroying authors hopes on Twitter knew she meant me and that I suck donkey bollocks, then promptly did *absolutely nothing* about the manuscript for half a year.

I went through a whole range of responses, shock, denial, despair… and now, eventually, acceptance. And contemplated throwing myself off the top of the Absa Building in Cape Town's Foreshore.

This week I opened that R&R letter and agreed with absolutely everything that editor said.

I’ve heard some authors whinge and moan about losing their artistic integrity, and that’s all fine and well. Keep your words. Hell, you might just step into Anne Rice’s shoes one day, and that’s absolutely fine. For you. After being convinced that I totally suck donkey bollocks spending time to let that manuscript lie fallow (which I totally advise to any author who’s serious about his or her craft), I’ve got the necessary distance to objectively consider that editor’s opinion.

When I look back at my older writing, it’s not bad. Not by a long shot if I consider some of the documents I’ve encountered in the slush pile. But too many times in the past I’ve suffered because I’ve been precious about my words and unwilling to make drastic changes. If I look at some of the authors who’ve really pushed boundaries, they’re the ones who often revise until they’re ready to jump off a high place. Again and again.

They will cry, and whine, and moan, but they’ll revise. And, guess what? They eventually get those contracts with the publishers of their choice.

Not that I’m slamming self-publishing, but I’d like to point out that when an author publishes his or her own work, there’s a real danger that an author will believe that they poop rainbows will not be hard enough on their own words, that they’ll indulge themselves and turn out a substandard work.

Granted, there’s place under the sun for loads of different novels, be it easy-reading animal stories to fairytale romance or eloquent litfic. Thank fuck it’s not a cookie cutter process. And readers have vastly different tastes.

But there are some stories that can only become better if an author is willing to put the work through the crucible; be honest about why your precious words suck.

This week marks my return to The Jackal, my post-Z m/m thriller. I have thrown away a second draft (yes, this is actually the second R&R for this story) and I’m starting fresh. I am scared and thrilled and dying to get started, and you know what? I’m looking at it this way. None of those 95k-odd words of the second version were wasted, because I’ve laid the groundwork for a compelling setting filled with diverse characters.

And there were some very odd words there.

Except now I can zoom out and focus on how I can make the story and the characterisation so much more powerful. And hey, maybe even play with deepening themes.

So, thank you to the wicked editor out there who wasn’t afraid to tell me where The Jackal is broken. I’m going in with scalpel blades, and even if this ends up being an out-and-out rejection eventually, for whatever reason, I’ll have learnt something from the process and had an amazing time playing in that world.

I am not precious about my words anymore. That is all.

Dawn's Bright Talons is going to be available in print within the next week or so. If you know not of what I speak, then get your posterior over to the Goodreads page and go have squizz.


  1. I struggled with an R&R for my vampire novel which I adored. I ended up shredding it into pieces and starting over. And I got that contract! Plus a much better book! I kicked and screamed a lot in the beginning though. And cried. My preshus snowflake words fall down and go boom! LOL!

  2. For a long time what I wrote was inseparable from myself. And I feared anything bad anyone had to say about it -- before anything was ever actually said about it, mind you -- would mean something would be lacking with my tastes, my mentation, my emotions, my perceptions, my values...*something.* Intellectually, I would have told you that that was a ridiculous thing to think...and it took me a long time to dig in and realize how much I actually believed it on some deep emotional level.

    It's taken me years to even begin to separate myself to be able to even begin the conscious attempt to apply basic writing advice, and then to be able to register the changes over time to the point where I could even begin to agree with them. So I can only imagine how difficult it's got to be to deal with an R&R, even though I know that so many writers don't even get that much encouragement from a publisher about their work. Congratulations on your breakthrough!

  3. I've reached a part where I'm just deeply excited because I want this contract enough. And even if they say no, I have my backup plan.