Sunday, August 29, 2010

Choosing Your Battles

Into every writer's life come edits. Revisions, copy-edits, and finally page proofs (sometimes known as galleys) have a way of showing up when we're at our busiest with other projects (day jobs and personal life included) but that doesn't make them any less important. On the contrary, we drop everything to take care of them because these are our last chances to straighten our literary's offspring's collar, brush the crumbs from his mouth, and send him out into the world to make a good impression.

As in the case of some over-eager parents, an author can get too controlling, too fixated on her vision for the book to listen to anybody else's well-meant guidance. And just as this hypothetical control freak parent can drive her child crazy (and eventually away with such behavior, so can the hyper-anal author drive her editors nuts (and eventually away) by donning full battle gear over every dash and colon or whether the publishing house's style guide dictates the use of "'til" or "till" in dialogue.

As you might need to remind yourself when your teenager comes home with blue hair, a lip piercing, or an oozing new tattoo, it's most important to keep in mind the big picture. Hair coloring grows out, piercings can be allowed to grow closed, tattoos have become more mainstream... And your reader is going to fall in love with your characters and their journeys rather than the choice of the word "effusive" rather than "fulsome" or your comma usage. (I've found copyeditors lean toward a cleaner looking page, sometimes removing my more formally correctly commas.)

By choosing your battles carefully, reserving them for those big-picture issues where the author really does know best, you avoid exhausting everyone and ensure that editors don't tune out your truly critical points - points that make the project stronger.

Important note: This balance isn't so hard to achieve when it concerns books. When you're dealing with teenagers, you all are on your own!


Kathryn Paterson said...

Thanks for this, Colleen. That's why I've been so focused on structure in this revision (that and developing the subplots), because I know that if I can get the structure really working, the rest will take care of itself.

It is hard sometimes, though, when you're writing a voice-driven piece and you know the voice isn't right. I struggle with that a lot and the only way I've found to deal with it is just to put that part away for a couple of days and try to hear something else. Usually I'll hear it when I'm least expecting, like folding the laundry or waking up after a dream. But it's funny; because I'm finally realizing that at some point, it just has to be good enough.

And they definitely don't teach us that in graduate school.

Colleen Thompson said...

They probably also didn't tell you that much of the freshness and originality, even the author's voice and vision, can be beaten out of manuscript that's overworked in response to the opinions of way too many others. Of course, one that's not ready is likely to going nowhere. We all do our best to find the right balance.


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