The Editor’s Corner – The Rough Draft

As you know, last week we just finished up a section on grief in The Psych Writer Series. So this week I wanted to take a break and head to The Editor’s Corner. After all, we’re writers, not psychologists. (For those of you enjoying TPW, we’ll get back to it soon!)

I have a little online writing group and as a freelance editor, I give writing tips and tricks to the youngsters on how to improve their writing (they are ages 13-20). But I don’t care to be all high-and-mighty. I write, too.

And my rough drafts are hellacious.

Everyone’s are. But I put them up in the group, anyway.

There is a reason that I post my rough drafts for their critique. I want to show them that even an editor who picks apart everything about a novel from start to finish to help them make a better piece of writing also has crappy rough drafts. We all have our quirks and problems in our first draft.

This is why I present them a rough draft, so they can see that.

Why?

Because the first time a person gets their manuscript back with line-by-line changes and more “red ink” on it than black, it’s effing discouraging and makes people want to throw their work out the window and into a bonfire.

But I assure them: if you get something back that marked up, it means you have potential. An editor will not waste time on a work if they don’t think it can grow.

So if they or you ever ask me for my professional feedback and you get it, even if some of it’s difficult to take, know that me spending time on your work means something. It means I think it has potential, and that’s the highest compliment an editor can pay to a writer.

In a letter to 19-year-old Arnold Samuelson, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is sh*t. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

This is what an editor helps people do. We don’t function as writers in that moment. What we do is massage the work into a shape that will leave the reader euphoric, devastated, or otherwise moved. They will incorporate your story into the tapestry of their lives.

This is why I share my rough drafts with my group. To show them that the work is always, without exception, in need of more refinement.

So when you share a work with a professional and it’s a rough draft, expect a lot of feedback. A lot of it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or it’s crap. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Happy writing!


I am Anne Hogue-Boucher. I write stuff and then I edit it, and then edit it some more. I also get it edited. If you’d like to read some of my work, pick up a copy of Exit 1042. There’s more on the way. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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