On Releasing Your Inner Critic
by Marie Valentine, Editor
I am anxiously awaiting a writer’s new manuscript draft. In hopes he would send it to me sooner, I told him not to overedit on his third pass. I’ve edited two of his works, so I am afraid he will overedit because I know he is so self-critical. He insists there’s no such thing as overediting.
I beg to differ. It happens far too often.
I see it all the time in writers who are not merely great, but possibly brilliant. I know this from their minds and my imaginings of how their ideas would translate to paper. I ask, do you write? They’ll say, I write only journals. I’m a closet fantasy writer. I say, show me these personal essays. Show me this epic masterpiece.
They keep chapters in a password-protected file folder on their laptop, and the manuscript never sees daylight. They are overediting a book they’ve been tweaking for a decade or more, because of their perfectionism and self-censorship telling them it’s not good enough. This is the case with so many talented writers I’ve met.
Worse than not knowing when to stop writing is when a writer won’t stop cutting from the rough draft. So many times, I’ve seen a writer ruthlessly chop my favorite parts when revising. Maybe a short story has a weird character that doesn’t fit. Instead of scrapping him or her, a writer might consider putting it in another story. It takes another set of eyes to see these gems, and the dud moments as well.
Editors can overedit, too. As a young editor eager to earn my stripes, I was a zealous comma cop. It took a more experienced editor to finally tell me that I could lay off the serial comma sometimes. And in experimental fiction, dialogue does not always need to be broken out with commas and quotation marks (see my dialogue above). Being flexible and receptive to a client’s style is more important to me than Strunk & White’s rulebook now.
I’ve heard about editing clearinghouses who insist an editor has to make a quota of edits, such as one mark on every page. This is so clients will think they are getting the work they paid for. I have serious objections to this model because, if a work is in good shape, it is not necessary to alter the author’s voice and style. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A confident editor should be able to point out good work and praise it in a writer.
Sometimes, as writers, we must let the rigor of revision and rules go so that a work can move forward. Once you’ve reviewed your second or third draft, give it to a trusted friend for positive feedback; next, consult with a professional (actively publishing) critique group, if you can find one—not all “critique groups” are created equal. Then, after a reasonable amount of revision (think months, not years), move on to querying agents or small presses. Fly away, book!
For better chances of getting published, hire a Book Editing Associate like Marie Valentine to help you clean it up before submitting. She can also help you get started on the submission process.