As a writer, I’ve had several epiphany moments throughout my career. These are times when a technique or idea suddenly cements itself so completely in your brain that you have to sit back and wonder, “Why didn’t I realize that before?” The new realization can be something as simple as understanding that you’ve been using a word wrong for decades or as complex as realizing that you’ve been working against yourself for years because you refuse to entertain a new process or technique.
I had one of those moments recently. Well, I guess the epiphany moment really took hold during the SEMWA (South Eastern Chapter of the Mystery Writers Association) Writer’s Retreat back in April. The retreat itself was an eye-opener, but there was one moment that completely restructured the way that I think about writing a novel.
I did what you do at a writing retreat. I wrote. And a scene from a story that I’ve been carrying in my head for a very long time just begged to be written. So, I put it on paper. Then I shared it. Then I got into a conversation with The Amazing Beth (Jaden) Terrell, and she started asking me questions about the vision that I have for the book. Each time I would answer a question, she would ask another.
Now, let me pause the story for a moment. If you know Beth, you know that she is not only Amazing, but she’s also a writing instructor, as well as a developmental editor. Until this point, I never considered that I might need a developmental editor. I knew the story I wanted to tell, I didn’t need someone else help me figure that out. Ha! The follies of naive writers.
Back to our story. I couldn’t estimate how long Beth and I sat there, her asking questions, me answering. What I can tell you is that it was the most productive time spent at the retreat. There were so many aspects of my story that I hadn’t uncovered yet. Aspects that Beth’s questions helped to unearth.
Here’s the epiphany moment: After we finished, I left Beth on a writer’s high. You know the one. You can’t wait to get the words on the page. I wanted to write down everything that we’d discussed before I forgot it all. Holed up in my (awesome) room, I came to the realization that in a short time, Beth helped me work through problems that would have plagued my new novel for months! I’m experiencing just those sorts of problems with the final draft of Biloxi Blue right now. Learning things about the story that I should have known sooner. Twists and turns that make it a better story, but would also have made writing the story a much easier process had I known them sooner.
Now, I’m not a pantser, by any means. I need something, even if it’s the most basic of outlines, to go on when I start a new book. But suddenly I understood the value of having someone else look at what little you have in the beginning and point out where the flaws are, when you drop the thread of a plot, where you could make changes that would make the story more powerful, and where neglected parts of the story might be fleshed-out to provide the reader with a fuller, more satisfying experience.
So, I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I changed. Over the next few months, I developed the germ of a story idea that we discussed that night and finally got a good, short (15-page) synopsis on paper, and I hired Beth to perform a developmental evaluation on that synopsis. She found more places where I could make the story stronger, pick up dropped threads, and tweak ideas that hadn’t yet come fully to fruition. I’m now revising the idea again, slightly, in preparation for writing the novel over the next few weeks.
That developmental edit was worth every penny that I paid for it. Comparing the coming process for the new novel with the process that I’ve been through with Biloxi Blue, I can see how the same type of edit would have made my life so much easier. Biloxi Blue would have been released sooner, and I would have spent far less time crying over this manuscript. So, going forward, an early developmental edit will be budgeted into my novel planning process.
It’s easy, especially when you’re an advanced writer, to think that you don’t need outside help. The fact is, even the very best writers could use another set of brain cells now and again. If you have a story that you’re just putting together, or if you have one that you’re working on, but you’re stuck, consider reaching out to a developmental editor. You’ll be amazed and pleased with the ways in which they can help your story grow.