K.J. Howe here. We're delighted to host talented editor and all-around fabulous person Jacque Ben-Zekry. I've had the pleasure of knowing Jacque for many years, first through her job at Thomas & Mercer, and now as a freelance editor with an incredible track record. She's fun, sassy, and full of great advice. Take it away, Jacque.
You are normal:
As an editor who has worked both in a publishing house and as a freelancer, I am often asked if I have any advice for writers. I do, trust me, I can blather on about what you should do with your talents, but the best advice I can give anyone on the craft of writing isn’t about the craft of writing at all.
For those of us who have worked in an “author facing” role in publishing, the job is really about being a therapist 30% of the time. Most writers spend months (years even) toiling away on their own, crafting a communication to the world. Because writers are so alone, but ultimately want to be read, most end up accidentally writing about the intimate things happening in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a runny-jumpy-shooty thriller, or a tender memoir of your life on a dairy farm outside Spokane, WA, it’s always personal and vulnerable and it often impacts the writer in unexpected ways.
I have worked closely with authors at every stage of the process—from brainstorming a new book, to waiting for the reviews to come in, to being immersed in the development of a movie/TV adaptation, to the launch of a big marketing campaign, to the discussion of the font for the cover. I have been privileged to see the truth of these people because of the vulnerability of writing, and I have learned one thing, over and over: You are normal.
Whatever drove you to make up stories has linked you on a deeper level to the same thinking/feeling/creating that drove every great storyteller since the dawn of time. And they all have felt the same as you, no matter what they may say. Trust me.
Are you the author who has written nearly a dozen bestsellers, been reviewed everywhere, nominated for awards, sold millions, and find yourself today scrapping several ideas, spinning wheels, and hopelessly blocked? I know you are normal, I’ve seen “you” in this situation many times before.
Are you a new writer who has never had another person read their stuff, who is terrified that the magic that makes some words “work” never found its way to your process? You are normal.
Are you one of the genuinely gifted, prolific writers who can’t seem to refine her craft into “more mature writing”? You are normal.
Are you terrified that despite selling a half million copies last time, no one will remember your name if you take a year to get the next book out? You are normal.
Are you paranoid about the industry? Your agent? Your editor? Are you worried you can’t trust anyone to tell you the truth about your work? Do you think that your book will be torpedoed to help another book be more successful? Shit, you are the most normal of them all.
Friends, you are normal. I promise. Obviously, I am not here to diagnose any exact mental issues, but I know they are not weird. Thousands of people are struggling to write, publish, find an agent, get a TV deal, and create under the exact pressures you are facing. The good news is, many of them find a way through, and so can you.
Okay, now that we all understand each other, have held hands, and done trust falls, I bet you are dying for a few more practical tips.
1. Trust yourself. Bruce Lee said “the medicine for my suffering I had within me.” Wherever you are in your career, trust yourself. To be clear, you might be wrong, but it’s just words! I edit for a living, and believe me, words can always be fixed later.
2. Trust your scene. I don’t believe in the old advice “show don’t tell.” Sometimes you should tell. That said, if you can “show” and have it be effective, then choose to “show” and for the love of everything that is holy, DO NOT “Show and Tell” in the same scene. Many writers create a great scene and follow it up by telling us what just happened. This is usually a symptom of not trusting the scene you have created. Remember, you can always fix it later.
3. Trust advice. It’s a common misconception that the best books spring fully-formed out of brilliant minds and emerge spectacularly in stores. Most books are read by 3-5 trusted readers, an agent/editing professional, and then usually 1-3 people at their publishing house. Many books, even from very established authors, are story-edited over a dozen times between the writer and their circle. The point is, you don’t need to nail it at the beginning, and if you are stuck, ask for help!
4. Get a hobby. If reading and writing were how you spent your free time and now you are making a go of writing as a professional…I promise you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t develop a new recreational activity.
My final parting words: “Relax, everyone will live!” We are not curing cancer, we are in the entertainment business. Sure, our work can impact hearts and minds, but its is just a book. You can write it. You are normal. Everything will be okay.
Thanks so much, Jacque! Sound advice. Anyone who would like to reach Jacque can do so via her website, www.modifyeditorial.com She only accepts normal clients. :-)