How Do You Know?

youre-wrongPretend with me for a moment. Let’s pretend you are a struggling writer, trying to complete a novel you really like. You’ve given your tome to an editor, who slowly gives you back comments. For the most part, they are helpful, though focused mainly on typos, grammar, and comprehension. In a couple of sections, wherein you are trying not to give away the story, there are comments like:

“Who is this?” or

“I don’t understand.” or even

“Where is the baby?” (which is revealed 2 pages later, oh great god of Impatience.)

How do you decide whether the editor is 1) right, 2) a dummy, or 3) too unwilling to be confused for a bit?

I’m not certain, but I suppose as the writer, I have to assume the reader is approximately equal in comprehension as my editor, and certainly no more. Still, in the past, where I’ve spelled things out, I’ve gotten feedback like “You have to trust your reader.” Yeah, maybe my reader is stupid. Then what?

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Anyway, this is one of those areas where being an artist is tough. Writing isn’t math. Our equations don’t always balance, and the proofs can be disproven by the next person who sees your work. I, for one, fall to self-belief. I have to trust that voice inside to decide when to make a change and when to say, “I’m okay with your not knowing what the heck is going on here, because you’ll know soon enough.

Perhaps I’m making a mistake, but I’d rather make my mistakes than someone else’s.

7 Comments

  1. Bethanie says:

    Well Mr. Jones, I am an editor, and I completely agree that as an author you are allowed to have your secrets and reveal them in your own time. On top of that, I am an author also, and my editor is the same way. I will argue and tell my editor, “just be patient, it’s coming up soon” and no, I won’t change it to satisfy her timing. She knows that. I live on both sides of the pen, the red one (the one I edit with) and the purple one (the one I write with). She may not like it, but we have a great relationship and if I say “you’ll just have to wait”, she will wait and then most of the time she ends up loving how I reveal things. So there you have it, both sides of the pen from my perspective. YES, TRUST YOUR READER, because if they have been reading for a long time they are smarter than you think. Best wishes!!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it. Ignoring my editor feels a bit treasonous (or self-destructive) so it’s nice to get another perspective.

  2. Hanno Phenn says:

    You are so right. I have sometimes the same problem especially yesterday when I was working on some paintings and I am still have the problem if it is right the way they are or if I have to alter or start all over again .As Feargal Sharkey sang Listen to your Heart and I decided I will switch of the worries and do it .you will be fine.

    1. Thanks. That’s what I was thinking. It’s hard when you agree 95% of the time, and then are hit with a “I don’t get it.” 🙂

      1. Hanno Phenn says:

        Exactly .It can scare the shit out of you .Just this little question .What am I doing here? If that comes ,I stop right away step back and take a break .It doesn’t do the work any good if try than to go a head with your work.

  3. I think if you’re too close to the work, you can’t see the flaws – six months down the track, you MAY see that the editor was right (but then, you may not). I asked a friend to look at my latest novel, and he said that the ending was too abrupt. He might be right, but i can’t see it yet, to me it looks right. Every book looks wrong the further away from it you get, though. Mmm..not wrong. Inadequate.

    1. I agree with you. In fact, I usually wait weeks or months before I take editorial comments and start acting on them. Even then it’s sometimes not to just get angry. So, all I can do is step back and look at what the overall trend is. In this case, it was, “I like the story and it’s well-written,” but the editor didn’t like the places where I was being too imaginative. It’s science fiction. Too imaginative is the base requirement.

      So I kept all his comments, and ignored the few where he thought I was stretching belief. Even then, I either made things more plausible or toned them down. Maybe that’s the real reason to get a few early readers – to see if there is a consensus.

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