When my email inbox showed the message I have been anticipating and dreading had indeed arrived, I made a mistake that I hope someone else can learn from: I opened it immediately. Mind you, it was Saturday evening, I was drinking a glass of wine, exhausted after a busy day doing a service project in a local park and then many hours of vigorous house and yard work. And then, stupidly, I opened the editor’s email. And there it was, 5,000 words of constructive criticism about my manuscript. Reading it was like taking a really nasty tasting medicine—you hate it going down but you understand that in the end, it will cure what ails you.
Long story short, there’s a lot that needs fixing. A LOT. And I’ve already spent three years researching and writing The Girl from Oto. I’m planning to publish it this year. But now I have a mountain of work to do on the draft I’ve already redrafted a few times—and that’s before I do all the other things that must get done in order to actually publish and promote the thing. Okaaaay. It really seemed like a fantastic idea three years ago.
Taking this all in on a Saturday night when I was bone-tired was just dumb. To sum up: never, ever open an editor’s critique unless you are psychically pumped up, OK? Duh. Wait until morning, with the promise of a fresh start in the air, with a homemade latte at hand (stovetop espresso maker, milk foamed with whirly twirly Ikea aerator.) Then, and only then, will a document that rips your manuscript to shreds look like a blueprint for success rather than a warrant for your novel’s arrest.
BUT. And that’s a big but. The next morning came. I calmly read the critique again. Then I trolled around for supportive words of wisdom from writers who have been here before. The comments that stick in my mind are in this article from the New York Times about Julie Strauss-Gabel, the editor behind megahit The Fault In Our Stars and many other YA novels. First:
“John Green still vividly recalls the opening line of a stinging critique that his editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, delivered after reading an early draft of his novel “The Fault in Our Stars.”
“The first sentence was, ‘I really enjoyed reading the first draft of this promising and ambitious novel,’ and the rest was 20 pages of her tearing it apart,” Mr. Green said. “Her editorial letters are famous for their ability to make you cry and feel anxious. They’re very long, very detailed and very intimidating.”
Adam Gidwitz, the author of the Tale Dark and Grimm series, had this to say:
“Whenever I get a letter from her, I go through this mourning process,” he said. “The first day, I rage all day. The second day, the tears set in, and I say she’s right, and I’m a terrible writer. The third day I say I’m not a terrible writer, but I can’t write this book. The fourth day, I get to work.”
What he said.