A New Perspective on Your Writing
Mentors and editors can help reveal your true colors
Heather Lee Dyer
Some days it feels like our writing just flows like a swiftly running river. Other days it feels like we’re writing through quicksand. Creativity is like that.
We’ll have good days and bad days and many in between. Sometimes we can write for hours on end and some days we’re staring at a blank screen.
Our output can be hit or miss, but our input needs to be consistent. For a writer, input is about educating ourselves on writing craft, doing research for articles, traveling and having fun to fill our creative wells, as well as honing our storytelling skills.
These are all important if we want to grow and make an impact with our writing.
But it’s not just consistency and continual learning that are important to our muse. We also need to have a realistic perspective on our writing.
I can’t expect to win a marathon if I just walk the same two miles every day and never push myself farther. I’m still getting good exercise, but by not doing more than the minimum, I’ll never get strong enough to run a marathon.
In the same way, as writers, we can’t expect to get any better if we don’t push past our good to get to something even better. Our creativity is a marathon, not a sprint.
We don’t know what we don’t know
We’re alone inside our heads so much as writers that sometimes we just glide along thinking that we’re improving but really we’re just maintaining. This is one of my biggest frustrations as a writer. That I don’t know what I don’t know.
Until we hit a brick wall and realize our writing hasn’t improved, our storytelling will remain decent at best. We get a rejection letter or an editor returns a manuscript to us with enough red marks to make a serial killer blush, then maybe we’ll get motivated to grow.
That’s why I challenge myself with each new piece or new book I write. I’ll enter a contest so I need to write a short story in a new genre, or I’ll create a character completely different than myself. I’ve also participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year.
These challenges get me out of my writing comfort zone and give me new people to interact with and get feedback from, as well as different ideas and concepts to think about.
We need to get away from thinking that we’re done learning and that we should just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. We don’t want to just be good writers.
We want to be amazing, fantastic, world-changing writers. And to do that we need to get out of our own heads. We need a new perspective on our writing.
The first and most obvious way for writers to get perspective on their writing is with an editor. Good editors will not only show you what you’ve done wrong but also what you’re doing right. They won’t change your voice, but they will draw out your personality so that you sound more authentic.
I went through several editors for my first few books before I found two that I use consistently now. Some of the problems I had with those first editors were lack of communication, inconsistent grammar usage (they disagreed with one another, which did nothing to help straighten my grammar out), and using harsh criticism instead of constructive criticism.
Criticism is important (yet hard to take at times!) as a writer. We don’t need harsh criticism or to be browbeaten about how many times we mess up our comma usage. What we do need is an experienced editor who can look past the letters and words and tell us what is missing or what is not needed.
Developmental editors will look at the big picture to help make sure your story structure is sound and interesting. Copy editors are the most common type of editor and will look at your book as a whole as well as doing line editing, depending on their skills and experience.
Line editing is the final pass to double-check grammar and spelling. I have used all these types of editors. Consistently, I use a copy editor and a different line editor for my books and short stories. It’s amazing what you catch when there’s more than one set of eyes on your writing!
My editors know my voice and my strengths and weaknesses. Because they know my writing so well, they can use each edit to point out something new that I could try or suggest ways of doing something different. I’ve learned more from my editors than I ever did in high school or college English classes.
Mentors are invaluable to any creative, and there are many different kinds. I have a book/leadership coach as well as a life coach. I learn something different from each one.
The great thing about mentors is that they can observe us and see things about ourselves that we cannot. Mentors help me with my fear of not knowing what I don’t know. I trust that they will eventually see what I cannot and will communicate that to me so we can work through it.
I first “met” my book and leadership coach, Azul Terronez, on a podcast. He was talking about education and writing. Something in what he said and what he was trying to do with his newest book resonated with me, and an idea for my first non-fiction book was born.
I’ve always said that I would never write non-fiction. I had no desire nor any idea of how to start. I was comfortable with writing fiction. But after hearing Azul speak, I learned that I should never say never.
He became my book coach and eventually my friend and leadership coach/mentor. He guided me through writing my first non-fiction book and was there when I was near tears and wanting to quit.
People are comfortable with one or the other — either writing fiction or writing non-fiction. I started with fiction, so it was what I was used to writing. Azul helped me get outside of myself and see my writing in a whole new light. I realized I had a good book, but to make it great I had to add more of myself into it. Adding a bit of ourselves into our writing is important for both non-fiction and fiction.
Before being mentored by Azul, I didn’t think to add darkly personal stories to a book on creative writing. Except I should have known better. I read widely, and the books on creative writing that I enjoy the most are ones with personal stories in them. For example, On Writing by Stephen King. Most writers have read it, but few would’ve read the whole book if it wasn’t for the personal stories that illustrate his points.
Thanks to Azul pointing out something that should’ve been obvious to me (but wasn’t), my book was made a hundred times better. Mentors and editors are invaluable to us as writers. It’s important to have the kind of quality feedback that experts can give. Our writing can benefit from a new perspective.
Originally published at medium.
Heather Lee Dyer
HEATHER LEE DYER was raised in the mountains of Montana on a hippie commune by a single mother who had top-secret clearance on the Apollo 1 program. Addicted to travel, visiting space museums, and all things space. Fangirl of anything YA, Sci-fi/fantasy, romance, and paranormal. Geek girl.