Jump back— to 1991 and the film Fried Green Tomatoes based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. Bate’s character, Evelyn, is an unhappy, restless forty-something housewife who is “too old to be young and too young to be old.” She thinks she’s going crazy because she can’t stop eating candy bars or crying about it. Jessica Tandy’s Ninny laughs and says she’s going through the change— no big deal just…
Evelyn does and her sense of empowerment grows so strong, Ninny fears she may have gone too far. But of course, she hasn’t. Sure, she’s over intoxicated by this strange new ability to stand up for herself, but overtime she owns it and shapes her life exactly the way she wants it.
Much like Dorothy in Oz, Evelyn always possessed the power she needed to accomplish her goals, but she couldn’t see it on her own. She needed someone outside her bubble of life to pull her out of disbelief.
Slide into— this writer’s life. If I could transport back to the beginning of my journey with Kaitlyn, I’d pull my Evelyn-self aside— yes, I was that kind of a basket case— pull her aside after the second draft because the first draft was only throat clearing and instruct her thusly.
Forget about agents and book deals. The story isn’t on the page. Not yet. Go inward. Commune with your worst fears, shame and blame— this is where the story lies. Let the demons rise until all the nightmares have been unearthed. It will be more difficult than you can imagine, but only the unbearable truth will turn this story into a worthy tale. You survived your demons to write. Write about them to thrive. Once you’ve gone as far as you can go…
Get yourself an Editor.
I have nothing against Beta Readers. I love all of mine. They provided the encouragement I needed to keep me keeping on. Each one zeroed in on what they believed was the biggest misstep in my writing at the time. And there’s the rub. They were reading a story written by someone with an emptier toolbox than Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Moreover, since I was writing in a fog with no headlights— totally oblivious to the story I needed to tell— there was no way in hell for them to help me sharpen the focus. This is why I will, never again, let anyone read my manuscript until my understanding of the story is as clear as a Soprano’s operatic C, and I’ve exhausted all avenues for improvement.
So, yes. Beta Readers may be in my future. But it’s hard to read like a fly on a wall, through a lens that exposes the clunk of the unnecessary and the missing puzzle pieces, so the core of the story has an opportunity to voice itself. Beta Readers have an objective eye, but only a professional developmental editor can deliver the uppercuts a writer needs to whip a so-so story into a publishable one. You need to find an editor you can trust. Get recommendations, ask for a sample edit, and have a live conversation with the editor to make sure you’re in sync when it comes to craft and your story. Then dive in.
Working with a developmental editor is hell. But choosing to hire an editor was one of the best decisions I made on this writing journey. This Big Edit has developed my understanding of craft and rooted that understanding inside me. I’ve learned more during this year’s edit than from all the craft books I’ve read or the workshops and conferences I’ve attended. Sure, those experiences were necessary— a primer, so to speak— without them it would’ve been harder for me to digest the editorial feedback. But it was my editor’s command to juggle all the elements of craft at once that made my brain rewire itself for real storytelling. Only a professional editor can drop that challenge effectively in your lap.
Hiring an editor is pricey. The cost may prevent you from seeking this kind of input. But if you’ve been in the trenches even half as long as I have, my guess is you’ve spent at least as much, if not more on workshops and conferences. So, like me, you need to ask yourself— is your story worth it? Mine was. Working with an editor taught me how to get Kaitlyn to soar. Now I’m free to do the same.