I’m thrilled to host Rebecca Montrusso, a Story Grid certified developmental editor, as a guest. Rebecca is sharing her expertise on how you can become your own story editor.
Creating a Strong Story
(Before you call in an editor)
by Rebecca Monterusso
What’s most important is that I study how to write effectively, do so myself, and use those skills to help other people improve their work.
That said, it might be surprising when I tell you (beg you, perhaps) to become your own editor. And I mean before calling in someone like me to take a look at your work.
Wouldn’t it make sense for me to tell you I can fix any story no matter how rough? Shouldn’t I have you send me even the most cursory drafts so that I can earn a comfortable living? Perhaps, but that’s not how I run my business.
There are a number of reasons you should write and edit your own story before hiring an editor.
First and foremost, I don’t want to take your money if I can’t help you make significant changes that will bring your workable draft closer to being finished.
Lying about how good or bad your novel is to make you feel better won’t make you a better writer and won’t allow me to do my job effectively. A draft that is so rough I can’t even begin to improve it (meaning, it lacks structure, consistency, movement, active characters, etc), isn’t something I feel good about taking on. I want to feel like I’ve made a difference in the work of the authors I help and I can’t do that if I can’t actually help. Save your money.
When you become your own editor, you learn, improve, and remember that knowledge for your future drafts.
I’m not saying you’re going to be able to write a perfect draft that will require no edits. But, your first drafts will (probably) require fewer and fewer edits the more you improve your craft. That’s because you’ll know where your novel is going and be more likely to get it there when you understand what your audience expects. Do the work now and you’ll be able to grow that much more when telling future stories.
Other writers self-edit themselves.
Not that I’m telling you to do something just because others do it. But, think of the most prolific authors, the most well-told stories. Chances are, those authors learned how to improve their own work before sending it to someone else. Compare that to the masses of people who write a novel in a month (or any designated amount of time) and send it off to an agent without even reading it through themselves. If you’re going to copy any sort of strategy, the one that gets authors published and out of the slush pile should be adopted.
Your next drafts will be better.
As you learn to critique your own work in an honest way (not too gentle or harsh), the future drafts of that story that you produce will become better and better. This is because of brain science and the fact that knowledge is cumulative. Taking time to study and you’ll gain more and more knowledge along that way that will enable you to challenge your initial ideas and build upon them to create unique stories.
You’ll better appreciate the books you read.
Learning how to write well and understanding the mechanics that make a story work will change the way you read. Reading stories and analyzing them will improve your writing, just as improving your understanding of the craft of writing will improve your understanding of the books you read.
All that aside, how do you improve your story before sending it to an editor?
Showing your work is a necessary step. Feedback is irreplaceable. That said, you could find an editor or coach who works with beginning writers (which might seem counter-intuitive, but there are people specifically interested in that). Or, use beta-readers or family members who read a lot and might be able to help. (Though I don’t recommend that route because they could do more harm than good, it is an option if you trust the people you send your work to.)
You could study every craft book you can get your hands on. The Story Grid, Story Genius, Story, Story Engineering, to name a few. Take the time to peruse websites like www.thecreativepenn.com, www.janefriedman.com, www.storygrid.com, etc. Listen to podcasts. Figure out and act on the habits of successful writers like Steven Pressfield, Stephen King, etc. Plenty of writers outline their learning methods in books for you to find. Or, you could attend events like Robert McKee’s Story Seminar or take Masterclasses by Margaret Atwood or Dan Brown.
Finally, you can use the tool at your fingertips and subscribe to Fictionary. Not only will you have access to the computational analysis, but you’ll get emails on craft to continue to teach you. Using this tool will enable you to take learning into your own hands. You’ll see your novel laid out in many different forms and learn what that means for what you’ve crafted. Then, you can act on that analysis and keep working to improve what you’ve learned. Though that doesn’t replace hiring an editor, it is a great first step to improve your first drafts immensely.
Rebecca Monterusso is a Story Grid Certified Developmental Editor, which is a fancy way to say that she helps writers learn to tell their stories better by focusing on writing, reading, living, and practicing with intention.
She spends her time traveling the world, writing whatever takes her fancy, and deconstructing the many stories she reads on her blog to better understand the craft of writing. Ultimately, she believes that stories are the only way to change the world, which makes writers mighty powerful people.
Rebecca Monterusso Workbooks
If you’re looking for a method to get that book started and written well, Rebecca has a couple of workbooks that will help you.
Practice to Improve Your Writing Workbook will help you learn by doing, by actually writing. It will help you practice in the right ways so that you improve, turn writing into a habit, and study stories you want to emulate. Use it to take actionable steps towards your goals.
Write A Story in 7 Days walks writers through the steps they need to take to come up with a fully-formed story that works. It helps them get words on the page and continue to improve their understanding of craft as they learn.