Working with someone on their novel, play, movie or short story collection is a powerful experience. It’s thrilling work, requiring a mix of delicacy and truthfulness that will bring forward the best results. In the fifteen years I have been editing and coaching writers, I have had the pleasure of holding published books in my hands at various intervals. Sometimes the journey to publication is swift and other times, more arduous. It depends on so many factors, and most of all, on the patience and perseverance of the writer. There may be champions along the way even as publication eludes us. There may be problems with a given book that take several drafts to iron out. Always the heavy lifting is done by the writer himself/herself, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, prose or scripted works.
When I have the thrill of holding the published work of an author I have coached or edited in my hands, I am mindful of all the solitary hours it took to get their full name printed on that cover. I hope for the writer that the finished work is as close to what he or she had in mind as possible, without regret or the kind of gutting compromise that can haunt an artist for years. That the sound of them is intact, that the kingdoms he desired to explore have the look and feel he dreamt of. As close as possible, in any case, for the final outcome is really up to the readers. How they experience the sound and vision of the writer and what they take away from all those hours of loving labour.
It’s an up and down process, reviewing one’s own work after publication. Most writers I know do not sit down and read their published books, except for the purposes of giving public readings. This may be because by the time a book is printed, the artist has moved on to some new project, and the characters pinned between covers must fend for themselves in the larger world. But before the publication process, which for so many is the be-all and end-all of the writing experience, there is the editorial journey.
Tough truths come out, but they can be delivered kindly. The most poisonous energy you can throw at a manuscript is sarcasm, and it has never, not in all my years as a writer, proved helpful. It is not about the writer being tough enough to take it. I wish I had a thousand dollars for every keen student who begged me to be “brutal” with them. They did not mean it, because no writer really wants to be savaged. Good practical advice delivered with grace and appreciation for the effort and vulnerability involved in writing stories down. To achieve best results (not to be confused with the corporate best practices mantra) there needs to be trust between editor and writer, between coach and creator. The final work is up to the author, and so at no stage of the game is the writing of a book really a “we” process. But it can be a less lonesome experience with the right person urging you on. Calling you on your crutches, giggling with you over repetitions that slipped through unnoticed. There can be laughter in the daunting process of editing a book, especially when the trust levels are high. It is a leap to choose and trust an editor or writing coach, to walk into a classroom and allow that individual at the front of the room to coax you to do more, push harder, test your resolve. Boost you with the compliments you DO deserve along the way.
This morning, sipping coffee, I am delighted to have on my desk a copy of Shawn Syms’ short story collection, “Nothing Looks Familiar.” In years past I worked with Shawn in classrooms at U of T and online as part of my weekly deadline coaching structure. A dream student, Shawn always knew what to do with a solid critique, how to preserve his own unique vision and voice while re-drafting. He did not comply with everything I suggested and I deeply respected his artistry as he shared his work with me. The happy occasion of his first published work of fiction reminds me of the delicate balance between writer and teacher, writer and editor, those precious relationships formed as a book is being created. Toughness and delicacy are required from all parties, but the real “balls” belong to the writer who keeps going, keeps drafting and crafting and making his or her paper dreams come true.
WORKSHOPS IN HAMILTON & TORONTO IN 2014-2015:
FOOD WRITING WORKSHOP: Hamilton, November 16, 2014, SOLD OUT
CRASH COURSE CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOPS IN HAMILTON
To be held at the James Street Bookseller Gallery Space, 134 James Street South, Hamilton ON, these delicious and dynamic 3-hour workshops give writers a taste of different forms of writing in a supportive environment. $45 per session. Email goodcompanyworkshops AT gmail dot com to register or find out more.
Memoir Writing: Saturday November 8 from 1-4 p.m and Wednesday November 12 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Food Writing: Wednesday December 10 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. and Saturday December 13 from 1:00-4:00 p.m.
Short Story: Wednesday January 7 and Saturday January 10, 2015.
Playwriting: Saturday February 7 and Wednesday February 11, 2015.