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When you think of editorial letters, the comments an editor sends after they've bought a book to get it polished up for publication, you probably assume it's just about that one book. Put more of this in, take some of that out, make this part more clear and that part less obvious, clean up those awkward sentences--make *this* book better. With the next book, there'll be a whole 'nother set of things to tackle.

And yet, I learned one of the most important lessons I've ever gotten from my editorial letter for GIVING UP THE GHOST. I'm already applying it, and deeply aware of it, as I work on THE HALFWAY HERO. I have no doubt it'll stick with me through every book I write from here on.

The lesson? Be sure.

Because what really struck me as I read that letter and the comments in the manuscript was that many of the things my editor pointed out, didn't surprise me at all. They were things I had always kind of sensed didn't quite work, but I had either never stopped to really think them through, or thought they worked just enough, and so they slipped through.

There is no "works enough". It either works or it doesn't. And if it doesn't, even if it's so close to working you can almost convince yourself that it actually does--you're far better off just fixing it before you get attached to it.

So I find myself, as I'm writing the second draft of THE HALFWAY HERO, catching those moments where I go--would so'n'so say that? Sure why not? or okay, I need this to happen here, how could that work? Yeah, that'll do. And I stop. And sometimes I still write the why not? or the that'll do, if I can't think of something else in the moment and I want to get through the scene, but when I do that, I keep thinking about it. I puzzle over it throughout the day, until I find something that's better than why not or that'll do, something that's yes, of course it be like this, and I know exactly why. And then the next day before I continue with the next chapter, I go back and change all those things that weren't quite right. It takes quite a bit longer than my rewrites usually do, but I feel a lot happier each time I move on.

Be sure your character would say this, or do that. Be sure each detail you add to your back story/world building/magic system makes sense. Be sure things are happening because that's the way they have to happen, not just because that's the way you want them to.

Naturally, there's lots of stuff you can't really be sure about. You can't be sure how any given reader will interpret the words you've put on the page, or if your logic will make sense to everyone, or whether you've gotten your ideas across as clearly as you hope. But you can be sure that *you* are sure of what you've written. That it all makes sense and reads clearly to you, no matter how small or convenient that thing that seems just a little off is, or how pretty it sounds, or how much you'd have to change to make it right.

The hardest and most important thing a writer does, I think, is to create that suspension of disbelief, that feeling that no matter how strange or awful or wonderful things may become, this story could really have happened. Every time you shake that, even a little, you lose someone's faith in your story. And if *you're* not absolutely sure of something, chances are no one else will be convinced either.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 22nd, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
You mean when I'm pretty sure somethings not working but I'm too lazy to go fix it... I should just do it?

JK. But I know exactly what you mean...after you've been through the agent filter/the critique filter/the watever, it seems like 90% of things, they echo what you already knew and tried to ignore becuase of the work it meant. I admire people who spend 6 months revising becuase they wont let stuff like that slip by.

Now....to bottle some of that perseverence so it will replace my impatience....
May. 22nd, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh, this is so right on. The MAIN THING my editor does with my manuscripts is to query stuff that, secretly, I knew I wasn't *sure* about but that I pretended was okay. No more denial! From now on I will be *sure*.
May. 22nd, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC)
This an excellent post. Thank you so much for sharing it.
May. 22nd, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC)
I too am on my sophomore effort, and it's amazing the things I learned with the first that I can apply to the second. My editor tells me this will be a much smoother journey,but we'll see...
May. 22nd, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
You articulated it SO well. Great post.
May. 22nd, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
Great post -- lots of stuff to think about and consider :)
May. 22nd, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
Well written!
May. 22nd, 2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
Great post! :D
(Deleted comment)
May. 25th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
This is so true. Every time I find myself crabbing in whatever just to finish the scene, by god, that's the bit I have to go back and rewrite later. I claim I don't do outlines, but apparently I do. Just in paragraph form.
Jun. 1st, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
way, way true.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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