Thursday, November 03, 2011

Embracing (the Right) Changes

I love Microsoft Word's "Track Changes" feature. Not only does it simplify the task of working with multiple editors/critique partners, it boils down our most essential everyday choices so neatly. Take this screenshot, for instance.

While reviewing and correcting a document that's been marked up by a trusted critique partner, my agent, or an editor, my gut reaction is all too often to click on "reject change" and move on to the next item on my nearly-overwhelming to-do list. But frequently, I come to realize it's the wrong decision and I end up going back and making the changes anyway.

To help myself embrace those pesky, #$@*! changes, I've come up with a few ground rules.

1. Understand that your first reaction to any suggested change is going to be ego-driven and emotional. Allow for that by first reviewing all suggested changes without reacting to any of them.

2. Complain to your significant other, best friend, or critique partner about what an idiot the person requesting said changes is not to recognize the genius of your vision. I call this my wailing and gnashing of teeth stage.

3. Take a walk or have a glass of wine. Then sleep on it, if at all possible. These steps give the suggested changes the opportunity to filter down through your brain's many layers of resistance.

4. More than likely, by this time, you will realize that the editor in question was right about at least a few things. Address those "easy fixes" first.

5. Take a second look at each of the others. You will undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised to realize the other person has a point. Address it, not necessarily in the same way the editor/critiquer suggested, but try to fix the underlying problem that prevented the reader from getting whatever you were trying to communicate.

6. Next, tackle the items your ego resisted most fiercely. You may find this was not because the editor was wrong, but because the point in question was going to take more effort to correct. Concede that you were really just being lazy, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

7. If you truly don't agree with something, even after you've taken time to think things through carefully, don't make the change. Instead, reread the entire document. You may find that the reviewer's suggestion was based on a weakness you can address in some other way.

8. Realize and allow for the fact that sometimes, even the most professional editors/critiquer/reviewer is going to be wrong. Maybe he was interrupted by a phone call and missed something that most readers would find obvious. Maybe she doesn't know your genre as well as you do or wanted you to reveal something ahead of the spot where it would have the strongest impact. Embracing change is important, but sometimes, as the author, it's your responsibility to reject it. After all, the buck stops with you, and like your reviewer, you're an expert reader, too.

The truth is, not even your editor expects you to agree and comply with every single comment and suggestion. If you're really worried about something, ask if it's a deal breaker and explain your point of view. Even if the editor still objects, this will give her a chance to better explain her resistance and brainstorm mutually acceptable ideas with you.

How do you handle the editing process? Do you often find your ego getting in the way?


Lark Howard said...

Great post, Colleen!

After my first critique phone call with my agent,I went directly to Specs, bought a bottle of Grey Goose and drank several martinis to relieve the shock. Luckily,I let all her comments sink in for a week before I even considered how to tackle the re-write.

I agree with you that the magnitude of work I see to making the revisions often colors my acceptance. And frequently my "fix" is different than (and better than IMO) what was suggested.

Some of the best advice I was ever given was not to react or defend at the time the critique is given. I've found that once I get out of my own way and consider the comments, assessing their validity is much, much easier.

Suzan Harden said...

I agree with Lark, though amaretto on the rocks does a better job of mollifying my recalcitrant ego while reading my editor's notes.

Colleen Thompson said...

I understand that chocolate's a great ego-soother, too. Glad I'm not the only writer who continually fights this battle. I have gotten a lot better at speeding up the process, though, which has been a huge help.


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