Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Be an Ox-Writer

Coming July 2012
In my twenty-year editorial career, I've had the pleasure of working with some pretty amazing professional authors. I like to say that "my" authors (as if I get to claim them) have taught me everything I know about what it means to be a good storyteller. They are my models, my collective inspiration, my wise teachers. Each one has made a special contribution to my personal aspirations as a novelist.

Colleen Coble stands out with an exceptionally rare trait, and her peers will know what it is before I even name it: I don't believe there is any novelist writing today who gets as excited as Colleen does about the revision process. When I say excited I mean hovering-over-the-e-mail-in-box-while-waiting-to-hear-from-the-editors excited. Tweeting and posting and raving, "I just got my editorial letter!" excited. Devouring-the-notes-and-responding-POSITIVELY excited, sometimes with comments like, "I can't WAIT to tear this thing down and start all over again! It's going to be amazing!"


Yes, really. Most of her peers think she's crazy. Just ask them.

This week I'm editing Colleen's latest book, Tidewater Inn, the first book in her new Hope Beach series, and once again I'm deeply impressed by how her positive attitude and enthusiasm toward the revision process has transformed her tale from good to great. Having written six novels of my own, I'm aware of how hard it is not to get defensive about a manuscript that consumed months or years of creative sweat and blood. Colleen has written dozens of popular novels and could make the case that she doesn't need editorial input anymore. She could decide to ignore her editors. She could get defensive about her creative choices.

But she doesn't. So today I wanted to publicly highlight some specific qualities of Colleen's attitude that make her, and her work, such winners. It's a list I'll refer to when my next editorial letter shows up (which will be any day now):

  • My editor shares my yoke and will strengthen my efforts if I let him/her.
  • My editor wants the book to succeed as much as I do.
  • Every suggestion is worth pondering, and most are worth trying.
  • Every book is an opportunity to write a better story than the last one.
  • Good books don't write themselves, and the best creative choices are usually the ones that seem, this side of the effort, most difficult to pull off.

I'll never forget the time Colleen explained that she sees her editors as fellow oxen sharing the plow yoke with her. Two are stronger than one. Imagine my laughter when I found this passage in the King James: "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 22:10). I used to say to fellow editors, "Be your author's partner ox. Make sure you're not an ass." Now I say it to myself as an author: "Be an ox, not an ass." I can do this because I learned how from the strongest ox-writer of all: Colleen. Thanks, my friend.

You can learn more about Colleen and her terrific romantic-suspense novels at her website, and at the blog she co-hosts with fellow novelists Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, Denise Hunter, and Cheryl Hodde.


Colleen Coble said...

Aw, I'm all choked up, Erin! You've taught me SO MUCH with every book. What a partnership we've had! I'm so blessed to have learned from the best freelance editor in the business. :)

Kimberley Woodhouse said...

Erin - this is GREAT post! Loved it. Thanks for sharing.

I will always love the revision process because of Colleen teaching me this :)

Robin Caroll said...

Yep...that's Colleen who blesses me on a daily basis

Sheri Salatin said...

This is great! I love it. Thank you for sharing.

Deborah Raney said...

I LOVE Colleen's enthusiasm. It's catching! And it serves her well. I love her novels! Wonderful post, Erin!

Erin Healy said...

Colleen's enthusiasm IS catching! Wishing for more of your spunk in all my efforts, Colleen. Thanks for commenting, everyone.

Dawn Crandall said...

What a great post with so many gems of wisdom! I am witness to her excitement every time she posts about it on facebook. :D I look forward to being so positive and excited about such things in the future... for I'm pretty sure it's an ADD thing. ;)

Colleen Coble said...

No ADD, Dawn. LOL I just know how fun the revision process is! It's like I can suddenly see the story so clearly. . .

Cathy said...

Attitude makes such a difference! When my line edits comes, I'm putting on a Colleen-attitude and getting in the yoke!