Saturday, October 13, 2012

Of Writers, Editors, and Time

In early June, I finished the first-pass editing of a 315 page memoir manuscript for a client halfway across the globe. The way we had arranged things, she was then to take about five months to complete a revision and return it for a second, final round of feedback. 

In reality, most editing clients don't wait the full five months (or however long we've agreed on); for various reasons some choose to turn around the manuscript in just weeks. Often this is a mistake because  for some writers and some manuscripts, weeks are needed just to fully digest and consider the initial feedback, think it all through and make decisions about revisions. 

Other than a "Thanks – be in touch" email when I returned the manuscript in June, I hadn't heard from this client. I generally force myself not to initiate contact during this revision period because I don't want to imply the writer should be moving faster. So I waited.

But last week I began to worry: Did she hate all of my editing suggestions? Had I offended her with some tough-love comments? Was she interpreting my feedback as harsher than intended and felt paralyzed? Had  she tossed her manuscript in the shredder? 

I knew I would eventually have to send a reminder email that the deadline was approaching…and just as I was about to, an email arrived with a cheery note that she had been hard at work finishing the revision – oh, and thanks for helpful feedback/edits. Phew!

Point is – nothing was wrong; everything was taking exactly as long as it was supposed to take, in fact as long as I had advised. This experience made me think again about how every writer, me included, needs to have more perspective about the time that needs to elapse while we are waiting to hear back from editors, agents, publishers, coaches, teachers, mentors, writing buddies offering feedback. 

Maybe things are progressing precisely as they should, taking just the right amount of time. Maybe people are taking time to respond because they are doing what we really want them to do -- carefully reading, then thinking about, considering, re-reading, and pondering our work.

My father always used to say, "No news is good news."  As I keep discovering, he was often right.

3 comments: said...

So much humanity in this post.

Writing is such a "vulnerable" business.

I love the reminder not to assume the worst...all things in good time.

Anthony Haynes said...

Interesting post - thank you. Valuable insight into the value of time. Before setting up my own publishing company, I worked for publishers either quoted on the stock exchange or backed by venture capitalists. There was a huge premium on pace. When setting up our own workflow, we aimed to develop a rhythm designed to allow each person in the process to take their time and do things well. This is altogether popular with authors, who having the written the book (often at their own pace, I should add!)then tend to want the thing out quickly - but the good news is they do seem to be pleased with the results. Which gives me more confidence in saying to each author, "If we publish your book, we're not going to do it quickly, we are going to do it well though".

drew said...

Excellent point.

I've found that our culture is now in a constant state of hurry-up-and-respond. Immediate feedback has become an expectation -- in part due to cell phones and social media -- and we have become conditioned that this pace is normal business practice. I'm not panning technology, but I am having difficulty adjusting my creative pace with changing business standards.