Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making Yourself a Rhino-hide Jacket: A Tutorial

*No Rhinoceroses (Rhinoceri?) were harmed in the making of this post.

One of the figurative terms I've always used when talking about editing is my Rhino-hide Jacket.  It's the Weston version of "stiff upper lip" or "big girl panties". My RJ is what I use to help myself from turning into a big baby when I ask someone for a critique of something I've written. In my humble (or not-so-) opinion, every writer must have one. They belong in your tool kit - right there beside your muse and your pencil sharpener.

So where do I get one of these Rhino-hide Jackets, you ask. You can't run to the store and buy them, unfortunately. RJ's are tailor made for the wearer, and can only be made by the same. 

Here are the steps that I have learned.

Step one: Cut out the materials.
In writer language (IWL), that translates as: Write. Write your heart out. Write your fingers off. If you have no material to trim, you'll never need the jacket.

Step two: Pin your pieces together.
IWL: Your first scary part - the part where it gets really, really uncomfortable. Put your writings and a critiquing reader together. This does not mean hand to your mother. This means a reader who knows about writing, grammar, structure, etc. If you are lucky enough to have a published author who is patient and kind enough to sit down with your manuscript, LET THEM! Hand that work off to more than one, if you can.  If there are no other options, email me.

Put it out there, warts and all, to be seen and read and critiqued.

Step three: Trim where needed. Add darts, tucks and pleats.
IWL: Take a good, long listen to what your readers tell you in return. REMEMBER: you asked them to do this.  Just as if you were really sewing a jacket, if you want it to fit right, you have to be willing to adjust some things.

...And right here I will insert the best advice I've ever been given - which there is no cute way to fit into this analogy. Unless, maybe, you count it as that time in every sewing project where you poke yourself with a straight pin. Ready? Here it is:

Get over yourself.

No one - In writer language this means no one, not even Agatha Christie - ever published a first draft of a novel. You, my friend, and I - we are not ever going to write anything perfectly the first time around. And if you think you did - put it in a drawer and leave it for several months, then go back and read your own work. It will be painful, but the truth is obvious - no matter how good it started, it WILL need adjusting.

Step four: Sew it together

IWL: Use the advice you've been given, the notes of the critique, the red marks on your pages. Use them like thread.  Consider every note, at least for a moment. 

Step five: Wear it.

IWL: Mind your manners!

Don't argue anything anyone tells you about your manuscript - consider it. You have the right to use or not, but they've done you the favor of taking the time to put that note there - you owe them the courtesy of taking the time to at least think on what was said. 

If someone tells you that something has already been done, the grammar isn't correct, or is illegal - do your homework. You've been alerted, now follow up. Find out the facts and adjust accordingly. These sorts of things are non-negotiable.

If something hurts, count it as a growing pain. Move on and know that nothing that happens here is going to kill you.

NOTE: A Rhino-hide Jacket was never meant to be comfortable. It's meant to be protective, but not necessarily for you - your RJ protects your readers/critiquers from you being a beast in response to what they've done to your "paper-baby". Other times, it's your manuscript that needs it, to protect if from it's own author! Just like you can't cuddle a Rhinoceros, put the RJ on your manuscript to keep yourself from babying it right into the rejection drawer. 

You will find, though, that the more often you re-make your RJ, the easier it is to do and the tougher your own hide gets.  

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