I get pretty irked when people who have never had anything published try to tell me how to write. They’re so certain that they know better because they may have been successful in another field, and well… that means the know everything, right? Your writing can’t be good because it isn’t what they would write.
But they’ve never written anything that an editor would buy. Ever.
But here’s the thing. No matter what those people try to tell you, only editors matter. That’s it! If you want to be a professional writer, you should listen to no one else but the editors who you submit your work to. Don’t let the “know-it-all” types get you down. They’ll try, but you can’t let that happen.
That’s not to say that other people’s perspective on your ideas might not be helpful. It may. Listen, but don’t allow other people’s perceptions of what you’re trying to accomplish cloud your judgment of your abilities as a writer bother you. Develop a thick skin because you will need it.
Some editors can be downright nasty and they can make you doubt yourself, that’s for sure. It happened to me.
I had written a book for this particular publisher before, and the editor I worked with the first time was great. She showed me where changes needed to be made and I made them. The book was published and the whole experience was amazing. I learned new things and we produced a quality book. Editors who form this kind of partnership with you are great. Editors that want to lord their position over you suck.
But the second time they offered me a book, I researched it, outlined it, and sent it off to a new editor. It was about the Aztecs, and I was really into it. I studied meso-American civilizations for a good three months before even starting to outline the book and knew quite a lot about the culture and religion. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m a heavy-duty researcher because that’s what really turns me on. I’d be a researcher in a heartbeat, if it paid well. The writing is the hard work, at least for me.
But this editor obviously knew nothing about Aztec civilization. In my outline, I wrote a short bit about human sacrifice, which was central to their religious beliefs. He sent back the outline with the comment, “Human sacrifice is sexy and sensational, but it has no place in this book.” Hmm…
OK. It was for middle-grade readers, but I wasn’t planning to show gore and hearts in hand. Yet, I felt that it had to be covered. It was really important stuff. They believed that if they didn’t sacrifice, the sun wouldn’t come up, the crops wouldn’t grow, and they would all die. How could I avoid that topic?
It was apparent to me that the idiot editor had no idea who the Aztecs were and that working with him on this book would have been excruciating. From his other comments, it was apparent that this would be “his” book and not mine. Nope. No way. Uh-uh.
I turned the contract down. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the aggravation, you know?
But it made me doubt myself for awhile. I don’t think I wrote anything for a long time after that because I’d worked for months on something that I was really excited about and this guy just crushed me. I questioned my abilities.
Now, I know how stupid that was. It had nothing to do with my ability. It had to do with the editor’s arrogant ignorance. He was young, new and well… I’m guessing he either learned to work with writers or he wasn’t there long. Either way, he lost me and pffft!!! I think I dodged a bullet there.
I went on to write four more books after that incident, and had a wonderful working relationship with my editor. She was my partner and her edits were always extremely helpful and insightful. We made some great books together, and I even dedicated one of those books to her because she was so cool.
There are times to listen and times to ignore. Figure out when the times to ignore are and whatever happens… don’t let anyone stop you!
Every time you write something, you get better. It becomes easy to crank out the words and they just fly off your fingers. I’m able to do that now. Remember, one of the great writers (either Twain or Hemingway) said, “You can’t be a good writer until you’ve written 1 million words.” So, keep writing. Write every day and write some more. Every word you write makes you better, faster and smarter than the words before.