the how of writing · writing

when to listen

I’m now waiting for my story to come back from the hack n’ slash edit I know it’s getting (and deserves).  I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to go through this insecurity.  Is the story beyond repair?  Will the word “hate” get used?  Oh, dear.

I’m nervous about this story.  Very.  I wrote it several years ago.  It got some personalized responses from actual editors which is why I’m using it for my first self-publishing attempt.  Thing is, when I first printed it out to revise it, I honestly thought all I would have to do is improve the grammar a bit and make sure I didn’t misspell anything.  Oh, my goodness, no.  After all this time, I can see why it got rejected.  In fact, I’m surprised any editors liked it at all (maybe they were just being kind).  I ended up fixing numerous phrasing issues, changed a small plot point more than once, hacked, slashed, and took out parts of scenes I thought at the time were fantastic.

I’m now convinced the worst piece of advice ever given to writers was Rule #3 of Heinlein’s Rules of Writing.  Given his perspective, I see why he said that.  It’s too easy to fall into the editing trap that says you can’t send it out until it’s perfect.  How can you make money writing if you never take the chance?

That doesn’t mean you spew words onto your computer screen and expect the editor to clean it up.

How does a writer know when a suggested change is good?  I think it’s a lot like ear training for musicians.  Some people are born with a good sense of pitch.  Others have to learn it.  Still others never get it.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try unless trying means they don’t do anything else except the thing they’re weakest in.  Back to my point, though, my husband has a great sense of pitch.  I know that because I’ve heard him play/practice.  I’ve heard the songs he’s written.  I’ve seen the way musicians who’ve heard him play treat him.  I’ve also seen him pick up an instrument he’s never played before and figure out some basic songs in the amount of time it would take someone to learn the first lesson.  All without anything to guide him except his sense of pitch.

When he tells me I’m off-pitch (thankfully that doesn’t happen often) I trust him.  Often, I can sort of hear it myself, but can’t put a name to it.  And the more I sing and listen to music, the better I get.  Hopefully.  I haven’t heard my husband complain yet.  (He’s very nice.)

When someone points out something in my writing, I usually already have a sense that part is wrong.  Not always.  Usually.  I just can’t put a name to it, yet.  And sometimes I’ll get feedback on something that I thought was great.  But after looking at it, I realize the person is correct.  On rare occasions, I don’t change anything.  This is usually due to a lone comment on something that everyone else understood.  In the end, though, I only make the changes that feel right.  Like that elusive sense of pitch, after a while you just know when your writing is sound.  And you know you’ve got it when you can thrill writers whose work you respect and intelligent readers.

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2 thoughts on “when to listen

  1. Good luck with the story, once you get it back. I’m in the write it and leave it alone camp. I find I’m able to read it afresh that way.

    When some suggests changes it’s just gut feeling as to whether to go with it or not. But then send it off. It’ll never get published in your top drawer!

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