It’s a phone call no writer wants to receive.
“Um, we got your story.”
Now, let me say up front that if your editor personally calls you and begins the conversation with “Um”, there is a pretty good chance you need to start praying.
A few years back, this is exactly the call I received. My editor, Kim, rang me on my cell.
“Um, we got your story.”
“It’s just not, you know, there.”
Instead of anger or resentment, I felt a little bubble of relief burst inside me. I knew it wasn’t there, and yet I had turned the article in. What kind freelance writer does that? A tired writer.
You see, here is the normal process:
- Writer: Find story, pitch it.
- Editor: Catch.
- Writer: Interview, write, revise, submit.
- Editor: Accept, publish.
I did all those things except when I got to the write and revise, I went at them in a half-hearted attempt. I was too close to the subject. I had done too much research. I had way too many interviews. By the time I sat down to write and revise, I had let the research snuff out the passion I had pitched the story with in the first place.
And I left no energy to revise.
Thank the Lord for editors in both the fiction world and the nonfiction world. Instead of killing the story, she asked me to re-write. All of it. In a day.
I have never, in all my years of writing, been asked to completely re-write an article until that moment, but that moment made me a stronger, better writer.
Yes, the research is important. Yes, the writing is important. But the rewriting absolutely cannot be overlooked. Here are some tips to help with the writing and revision process:
- Do the work on the front end. Make a question list even if the questions seem obvious. Write in big, bold letters: I want to know/write ___ because ___. For fiction writers, invest your time in writing what the industry calls a back cover blurb. This is usually three to four paragraphs and is basically a synopsis of the work. Once the writing is done, re-read the blurb. See which one needs to change.
- Focus, focus, focus. Too much information is often better than not enough information, but there are times when too much information is just too much. Remember your Who, What, When, Where, Why and How for magazines or journalism pieces. Remember to stay in the scope of the pitch or the assignment.
- Schedule time for the piece to rest. If you are working on novel length fiction, maybe you can finish chapter forty on Monday and go back to revise chapter one on Tuesday because there has been so much time between the two. If you are working on a nonfiction piece for a magazine, leave at least twenty-four hours between first draft and edit draft.
- Read your work out loud. Me? I head to the chicken coop. Even if my ladies think I’m stupid, they can do nothing more than cluck and peck at my shoe laces when I read through a draft.
- Get a second set of eyes on the piece. The eyes should not belong to your mother or your children. There is just something about those connections that do not jive with good editing. You’d have better luck at honesty with my chickens.
- Be open to those occasions when your editor will ask for clarification, or a complete re-write. In non-fiction, the work is often objective. In fiction, know the limits of your willingness in terms of what you feel comfortable adding or subtracting to make a piece work for a perceived audience. How far will you go to please those beyond the Lord? Some compromises are just not worth it.
- Write a thank you note – especially to the person, or people, who advised a rewrite. It is hard to tell someone their work doesn’t, well, work. It’s even harder to hear it. Having a teachable spirit goes a long way in the world of writing and beyond.
- When in doubt, pray. Wait. Listen.
Above all, remember that a rewrite doesn’t kill you, but the lack of one just might.