So I received my developmental notes for The Killer and The Dead last week. These notes were a collection of thoughtful comments and suggestions on plot, structure, pacing, writing, setting, and character. Plus a ton of in-text comments on specific aspects of the book, good and bad, pointing out places where improvements could be made, moved, removed or added, depending on the topic at hand. In short, an invaluable service that I highly recommend to anyone serious about their writing and about submitting their writing to the public as a professional.
Now I’ve had these documents in hand (or on drive) for a week. I have also had extensive beta feedback from other readers in this past week. Very insightful and inspiring.
What have I done with it? I’ve read it. Paused. Read it again. Let it sit in my mind, kicked at it idly, but not with significant intent for a couple of days.
Then I started making notes. I annotated the developmental letter, anaylsing some of the advice and suggesting to myself some responses. Mostly I let the ideas sink in, let my conscious and subconscious begin to play with them. I read some email from my beta readers. I replied, because I think well by writing and talking. I began to suggest more concrete responses to the notes and feedback I was receiving, started to conceptualise what I was going to do, and where in the text. I started writing notes on new content. I worked on identifying which thematic threads I was most likely to tap as keys to rewrites, to give everything a harmonious purpose in my mind, and to help guide me to specific end goals and effects in the writing.
At a certain stage you realize that this could be a staggeringly complex exercise. You can’t even conceive of the flowchart you’d create to catalogue the physical actions in the book, the character evolutions, the emotional moments, the themes and motifs that you want to reinforce, or remove. The effing continuity issues, which are universal in any novel writing exercise.
I took a shower, went to sleep. Played some pool. Put my mind back into slow cycle, picked at a few strands of the book here and there, had pleasant imaginings of small corners, fragments of scenes, how minor changes can make a huge impact. Try not to think about whether or not they will make the right impact. No second guessing – this is why I work on having a harmonious frame of mind, and a cohesive strategy for the whole book before I start rewriting. I wait for the ‘click’: the thing that makes everything else make sense, and that allows all the many cogs and wheels and constituent parts of the book to work together and become something more. Sometimes a small scene you retool can help you find the key to all the changes you might want to make across the entire book. Sometimes not, you just get a cute character note added that is pleasing to you, and hopefully to the reader. Now, in thinking about the book, you must think about the reader, the time of the first draft and doing things for fun and for yourself is past. Now you need to shape your text for other eyes. That requires a shift in thought, and it too can take a while to happen.
The ‘click’ happened a couple of days ago. I know the direction I’m going to take, and what it means for every character in the book. What I hope it will mean for the reader, and for me, as the writer. The click could have been one of a few things, that’s why I took the time to gather my thoughts, to move around and through the options, to feel them out without a sense of mad urgency, so that the one that felt best would become apparent. I think it has. I’m going to start the rewrites this weekend. I’ll find out if my plans survive first contact with the text, and if they don’t, well, I’ll have to improvise!
This is my experience of this stage of the editing process. I don’t believe you should dive in too fast after getting developmental feedback. I believe you should stop, take stock, sleep, breathe it in deeply, and let the feedback rest a while. I don’t have a whole lot of time, so more than a week before starting to work was unrealistic, but this week of not rushing in, of spending time thinking, speculating, calmly re-evaluating the feedback – which can be overwhelming at first, having your baby picked apart by a professional other – is I think essential for me. I need to have certainty going forward, to know how and why I’m going to make many changes to the text, move it closer to its final form. There is time for more debates on specifics, more discussion of flashpoints and crucial moments and how to handle them, how to fit them into the overall narrative, but the important thing is to have a plan, and for that plan to have a unifying principle. I think I have that now, and how sweet it is.
2 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Gathering Your Thoughts, or Dealing with Developmental Editorial Feedback”
I takes me forever to get to revising after getting feedback, even for short stories. Part of it is probably because I often ask for feedback during times I am too busy to write, like right now. Part of it is balancing the thrill of new ideas with the need of old ones.
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