Today I would like to express my gratitude to the writers I’ve worked with who understand that writing a long story (novel or narrative nonfiction) isn’t easy.
Until recently my dream clients have:
- read and written a lot in their lives, for pleasure or work or school
- undertaken a writing education, whether in a formal MFA program, during on-the-job journalism training, or by attending workshops, continuing education classes, and writing conferences.
- realized that their writing education is never complete, and that each project will present its own challenges.
- networked with other writers farther down the publication road so they have a realistic view of what they’re in for and the effort involved.
- improved on earlier drafts of their project after sharing with a critique group or other trusted advance readers.
- hired a developmental writer for the express purpose of identifying problems and suggesting solutions, so will not get angry or lose heart when she does so.
Martin told me that many decades ago he’d had an unusual life experience that he’d now written as a novel. I felt ambivalent when I heard this. Basing a novel on real events can be tricky, as once the story structure is in place it is often the “real” parts that stick out as irrelevant or unnecessary—and the writer is typically loathe to change them.
A retired researcher who had often written for publication in scientific journals, Martin had received no formal education in writing since his undergrad days as an aspiring poet. Nearing 80 and used to working alone, he had no time or inclination to go back and get the kind of education I outlined above.
So he embraced his strengths as a researcher and read numerous classic novels and analyzed them as to what made them work, slowly but surely absorbing plot structures, methods of characterization, and ways to build psychological tension. He applied what he learned to his first draft, checking his progress with trusted first readers. Only after several drafts did he seek my services.
His voice was confident from word one because he knew what he was trying to do and had a plan for doing it. Since I didn’t have to teach him to write I was able to dig into the underlying structural issues without distraction. I’m still not quite sure how much of his novel is “real” because Martin was always willing to make changes in service of the story so it would ring “true.” And he didn’t make suggested changes verbatim—he took every suggestion I made and ran with it in his own direction. This tickled me to no end.
Even at his age he never rushed the process. He wanted to get this right. And when he had made revisions based on my suggestions, he did something else my dream clients do:
- he took advantage of my lower rates for repeat projects and ran it all past me again, realizing that any major change can instigate a host of new problems.
He did not leave me wondering if all my effort was worthwhile. I saw his revised, stunning project through to completion, and as he now submits to agents, I am reinvigorated to the work of editing new clients.
Authors willing to work hard? See me. I’ll gladly list you among my roster of dream clients!
Editors: what attributes define your dream clients? And writers: what do you want in a dream editor?
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service that offers submission package reviews. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, was published by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of Visiting. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.