I just finished developmental edits.
This is a big honking deal. It basically means my book survived being torn apart by beta readers and my wonderful editor, who told me (in the nicest way possible) when my protagonist sucked, when she stopped caring about what happened, and when I became a self-indulgent twit writing pretty instead of telling a story. Developmental editing is the hardest part of writing a book, imho, because the book looks done. It even feels done. But it’s not done. No no no. Not at all. Sometimes in devo edits, your book gets torn to shreds, you have to delete an entire character or entire subplot, you have to realign who’s the villain, or who’s the love interest. It involves mental gymnastics I can only liken to playing chess for the first time and realizing that moves beget moves that beget moves. And it’s your job to make every move perfectly from the start.
After I completed the developmental edits, late on New Year’s Eve Eve, I had a mini-breakdown. Granted, there were likely other things that went into the evening that upped my fragility. But the experience, and the subsequent mystification of my partner and friends, inspired this blog post. For your edification, my guidelines for dealing with the emotional life of your author partner/spouse/friend:
1) Don’t tell them what to do
“Just walk away from it” “Give it a week to rest” “Muscle through it” “Forget about it for a while” “John Cleese said this about creativity. . .” “An author I follow on twitter said you should. . . “
When I was 20 minutes away from finishing my draft, a friend of a friend said “Just walk away from it for a while” and I nearly hurled my laptop at her head. Did I ask you? No, friend of a friend; I didn’t.
Don’t be that guy. It’s natural to want to ease the discomfort of your author. It sucks watching a loved one struggle. But giving them unsolicited advice is certain to cause, if not a meltdown, a surly back-turn grumble-fest. If your author asks for advice or help, by all means share what you want. But if they don’t ask, don’t tell.
2) Listen to what they say and help if you can.
Often you’ll hear clues in the grumbles of your author.
“I’m on a roll but I’m getting hungry” “I can’t figure out how to kill my villain” “Something about this paragraph just doesn’t work” “I haven’t showered in three days”
If you hear a clue, you can enter an inquiry: “Do you want me to make dinner tonight?” “Do you want to brainstorm?” “Do you want me to read that section and give you feedback?” “Can I draw you a bath?”
3) Offer words of affirmation.
Odds are, your author has bouts of Imposter Syndrome. Sometimes these bouts are accompanied by whines of “I feel like a fraud” or “This book sucks” or “I don’t even know why I try anymore”.
This, my friend, is your chance to offer affirmation. Share something fairly specific about what you love about your author’s writing. It doesn’t have to be about the book/story they’re working on. If they’re an introvert, it’s best to do it in private. If they’re an extrovert, compliment them in front of others.
4) Offer to read their work in progress, but don’t get butt-hurt if they say no.
Even if you’re not a big reader, it’s a way to show support. There are dozens of reasons for them to say no, but they’ll appreciate the fact that you want to help.
5) Be a fan.
Are they having a release party? Go and help. Are you on Twitter? Tweet about the book every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be rabid fandom, but it’s nice to know our efforts make you proud.
6) Don’t ask them how much longer it will take.
They don’t know. Or if they do, they’re scared of the answer.
7) Don’t guilt them.
In the world of your relationship, it’s not You vs. Book. Think of it like a polyamorous relationship: Your partner loves you AND their book. Their relationship with the book makes your relationship stronger. Book and Partner love is not a zero-sum game. You might feel neglected, and if so, ask to schedule a date night. Don’t just try and yank them from their desk chair for a spontaneous night out.
If you’re a friend trying to get your author to relax a bit on a Saturday night, you can coax, but respect the no. Sometimes your author will give you little clues (“Gods, I could use a burrito and a night out”), but sometimes you’ll need to let them make their own miserable choices. And that’s okay.
8) Don’t shame them.
You know what? Sitting in an office chair for eight months writing a novel can give you a fat ass. It can make you pale and make your friends forget about you and stop inviting you out. It can make you drink too much coffee or wine or eat too much crap or take up smoking or forget about sunshine.
Assuming your author is a generally healthy and grounded person, your author knows all these things. And they choose to engage anyway. Shaming them about any of it is guaranteed to get shitty results.
If their junk food habit goes away once they’re through the hardest part of the book, then maybe it’s best to ignore it. If they only drink when they’re in crazy late-night edits, it’s probably not a “problem.”
If you’re genuinely concerned about their behavior or habits, have a conversation about it. (Here’s a great guide written by my partner about how to have a difficult conversation). But before you do, take a long look at your own judgements and assumptions and figure out if it’s your own shit or your author genuinely has a problem.
9) Don’t accept shitty treatment.
If your author is a jerk to you or takes advantage of you when they’re in writing/editing mode, it’s your right to bring it up. (See the Difficult Conversation Formula again).
10) Love them no matter what.
Writing isn’t a very sexy thing. Having written is. If you want to be on their arm when they’re doing glamorous things like book signings and release parties, then you’re gonna have to suffer through the late-night self-loathing fests. It’s the price you pay for loving an author.