Rest It If Possible
Rushing is rarely ideal for a story. If you have time, put the story aside for a few hours or overnight before you do a final line edit and submit. Or call in a friend with fresh eyes you trust to proofread, but make it clear to them you’re on a deadline and only want final polishing feedback.
One of my crit partners found an issue related to the ending–nothing serious, but I’m sure glad she caught it. So I went back and took care of the missing transitions and marked them. Then I proofread the whole thing.
When Andrew got on, he went through it all with me again one final time. This is really going above and beyond what I’d ever meant to ask of him. We cut one of my transitions, found some lingering weak spots we’d missed the first time, and upped the stakes some other places. That night off really made a difference.
So my story got finished and submitted to my intended market before the deadline expired. I am proud of it and believe the story is far better after all our work than it was before. I think it is even better than it would have been if I hadn’t called in help and just dealt with the individual comments–I might have missed the big picture.
Worship Your Zombie Overlord
No, not literally. Unless your lead editor is a zombie like mine. Andrew is also known as @thinknzombie and prefers his tribute in brains he can feast on. I owe him big time for what he did for me this week.
My point is to appreciate whoever acted as your lead editor and became so much more than a normal crit partner. Don’t take their time and energy for granted. Make sure they know you appreciate them. Pay them back or pay it forward in your crit circle, whatever works for them. Don’t shove stuff down their throat, but figure out what you can do that they or someone needs and wants.
Maybe no one needs a lead editor or you don’t have the skills for that. But do something that does fit your skill set. Be a partner, not a taker. Maybe you offer extra proofreads before people submit their work because you have an eye for misplaced commas, typos, and stray spaces. Maybe you’re a brainstorming maestro and help out that way. Or maybe you help make a list of potential markets with submission windows and turn around rates to help someone figure out where to send their latest masterpiece. Or maybe you hold someone’s hand and pass the tissues after a rejection.
Whatever your skills are, use them. A critique partnership only works if the partners give as good as they get. So step up and be a true partner.
Learn from the Experience
We can’t expect people to do things like this again and again. We have to learn from the experience and see what we can do to keep it from happening. We can’t prevent every writer breakdown–not unless we quit being writers, an option I’ve considered (but which my crit partners will not let me get away with). However, we can see if there’s anything we can do in the future to limit it happening.
For me, I need to be more careful about setting deadlines for myself. My goals have to stay realistic and I need to do more writing of a story and making it excellent then finding a market. Maybe I tweak it to the market. But for now my goal has to be slowly building up a portfolio of stories I’m not rushing about that I can draw from and tweak or edit for those awesome submission calls.
I can’t do fast like a lot of other people. My health just doesn’t work that way. Sure, maybe it can work out sometimes when the situation is right, but my mindset needs to be that I’m going to write this piece for itself and if it’s done by X that’s a bonus. If not, it’ll be ready eventually and it can go in my portfolio. I also need to find a way to credit editing in my word count goals. The difference in word count just doesn’t cut it.
But as well as learning about my limits, I think I came out of this a stronger writer and revisor. Analyzing why I was doing things gave me a lot more insight into the mechanics of story and the balance between making a story great and considering your market. Whether it all works out I won’t know until those acceptance letters start coming, but I feel better about it.
I hope also to be a better crit partner tomorrow than I was yesterday. I learned a lot about considering people’s goals as well as the needs of the story from this experience. I must become better at expressing the whys instead of being lazy and handing out hows. If I identify the reaction I get and why I think I get that, the writer is better equipped to find a solution that fits their goals and visions.
I need to make it clearer to my partners that my feedback is an invitation to dialogue. They’re welcome and encouraged to drop me a line with questions about it and to ask me to talk them through pros and cons of different options that keep their goal in mind.
Next time I think something on a deadline needs huge changes, I hope I remember to say, “I can see some things that might benefit from being different but would take more work than is likely feasible in your time frame. If things don’t work out here, come back to me and we’ll have a chat.” Or something like that.
So if you’re on INKubator and you’re feeling overwhelmed with feedback and need a lead editor, please let me know. I know how it feels to doubt yourself. I can’t promise to be as perfect a lead editor as Andrew was for me, but I can promise to try to listen to your goals and help you figure out how to interpret and apply feedback to meet them. I’ll bring the tissues too, just in case.
If you’re not on INK and you’re feeling that way, know you are not alone. You aren’t stupid for being overwhelmed. You might feel broken right now. But there’s a way out. Oh, and maybe you should check us out.
I’m sure the lead editor and accompanying process Andrew and I used aren’t the perfect solution for everyone. But there are alternatives to the trash can. Open up to someone you trust and see if they can help you.
If you have other ideas for dealing with overwhelming feedback, bring them on. Having alternatives helps! Every writer is different.