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ACW

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Irrational Author Ego – A Story of Rewriting by Amy Boucher Pye

Photo: Nic McPhee, flickr
At Friday, 5pm, I met my deadline. Having pressed “send” to my dozen reader reviewers with my manuscript, I was pleased to finish the first draft. I’d done a fair bit of rewriting on the manuscript already, passing my chapters, one by one, to my publisher for comment and critique. He unearthed hidden agendas that needed axing and quirky ways of stating things that needed rephrasing. Surely, I thought, the worst of the rewriting was over.

On Saturday at 3pm, I spotted an email from one of the reviewers. As I opened it I glimpsed her warning for me to “buckle up,” for she said she didn’t take a measured, British approach in her critiques but would be straight with me – yet she thought my baby was beautiful and wanted it to fly. I skim-read her thirteen pages of comments, the anxiety building in my gut, and took myself to bed.

And yet from under the duvet, EditorAmy knew that WriterAmy was merely suffering a typical first-time-author emotional reaction. It was my turn to be on the receiving end of a critique – something I had dished out countless times in the past. From my editorial experience I knew I didn’t want to be an author who throws a conniption fit, spewing emotional garbage far and wide – I had experienced that vomity stink a few times previously and knew how damaging it would be not only to relationships but to my soul. So I thanked my reviewer for her amazing speed and insights (which I knew rationally were there even though my heart couldn’t see them) and squawked my pain only to my husband and later, in measured tones, to my publisher.

My publisher read her critique and the others that followed, commenting how amazing that even an editor-extraordinaire could feel the pain, for he didn’t see anything suspect in their reviews. I agreed with him – a month later, when the wave of emotions had returned to calm and I was ready to hit the rewrite.

For I may be an editor, but not when it comes to my own work. Then I’m a writer, complete with feelings that can go wonky and a stunning lack of objectivity. I can’t see in my words what’s muddled, or the hidden themes, or even my pet phrases (“just” or “of course” anyone?). I need the wisdom and grace of others who give me their feedback and opinions as they help me shape my work.

My book will still have flaws when it’s published, and no doubt I’ll spot a typo or mistake as I glance through the published product the first time, as is so often the case. But wow, do ever I see the rewriting process as a gift, producing what I hope is a tighter, deeper, and more compelling book.

And that thirteen-page critique? My friend helped me so much. Not only in spotting the places where I sounded patronizing or flippant, but in naming my lack of confidence as a writer – how I was standing at the door to the party, afraid to go in and sing my song, when I should be taking my place on stage, belting out the melody that I was made to sing.

Kill your darlings, friends; that they might live.

Over to you – do you agree that authors can have an over-the-top reaction to critiques? Have you any stories to share about a crushed ego or a rewrite that moved your work from good to excellent?


The momentous day of signing the contract
for my first book, with publisher Steve Mitchell.

Amy Boucher Pye was a commissioning editor with HarperCollins and Zondervan when she worked with amazing authors such as Adrian Plass, Rob Lacey, Michele Guinness, and Jeff Lucas. She still dabbles with her first love of editorial work, commissioning for Authentic Media – her authors include Conrad Gempf, Chine Mbubaegbu, and Cathy Madavan. She blogs and tweets and would love to connect with you. Her first book will be published in October: Finding Myself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity. She’s lost count of how many times she’s rewritten it but finally, yesterday, submitted it for proofing. Oh, except for the recipes, which still need rewriting.

15 comments:

  1. I owe a great debt to an American editor who, a long time ago in my writing life, line-edited 150 pages and told me (kindly, but very clearly) what I was doing wrong - all the self-indulgence which I have tried hard to avoid ever since. It was a shock at the time, but I am thankful now.

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  2. Ah, that self-indulgence. I know what you mean! That was a great service indeed the editor did for you - nothing like seeing the slimmed-down version to see how much better it is.

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  3. Well said, Amy. It's hard to see the flaws for ourselves, and harder still to accept them when others point them out. Not sure it ever gets any easier, either. But knowing you, I'm sure your baby will be perfection. At least to those of us who admire it's 'mom'. :)

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    1. My editor and I are already taking bets (well, not really - we're Christians) on who will find the first typo! Always happens, doesn't it. But thanks for your vote of confidence, Mel.

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    2. What are my odds? (I don't always report the typos I find.)

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  4. I'm glad they were helpful in the end! But next time I would definitely cut it down from 13 pages...
    <3

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    1. I will be forever grateful! Especially for the need-for-confidence naming - a priceless gift. You are a star reviewer!

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  5. I don't think any criticism is easy to take. But I think it's the only way I've learned anything about writing. It's when someone says, 'But would she really do that?' and your whole novel is in pieces ... that REALLY hurts. Still, if it's what needs doing, it's what needs doing. Even if the book launch is put off again - until 2025.

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    1. I take my hat off to you novelists - I don't know that I could do that!

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  6. I think it's the same in my job. I've been teaching for 30 years but when someone says to me, "Maybe you could have done this instead of that?" I want to rise up in indignation. But times have changed and I usually agree when I've had time to think. I guess it's the same with writing, however long you've edited/written etc. Who was it who said, "Buried in every criticism is usually a pearl of truth, Hunt for the pearl. Forget the rest"> Great post, Amy.

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  7. Oh I love that quotation. Makes me think of the very good advice I had from another editor when a failed manuscript of mine got a slaughtering (the reviewer didn't think think or know that I'd see the review I believe) - my editor friend said, ask God to show you what kernels of truth are in the criticism. In this case, some hard truths - but ones I needed to hear (like the book was a good exercise for me to do as a writer, but not one to be published).

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  8. Thanks for your honesty Amy. Having just submitted my precious baby to a select few for feedback, I will need to remember not to get over-emotional and cross when the comments come back. Tough, but then I guess that's writing. Thanks for this timely reminder :)

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    1. Or you can allow yourself to become emotional, but only for a day, and not to be expressed outside of the house. :)

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  9. Yes, Amy, I know exactly what you mean. I confess to having had a bit of a wobbly earlier this week when my novel came back from my publisher's line editor. I don't think it ever gets any easier, when someone dares to touch our babies. But the prize is to get there in the end. All the best!

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    1. So it doesn't get easier - yikes! But at least I suppose we're ready for our emotional reaction, as I thankfully was from my years as an editor. Sometimes those babies have extra limbs that need cutting off! :)

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