Sunday, December 13, 2009

Commenting on a ms. (an author's view)

I am a ghostwriter, and a few weeks ago got the best comments from my collaborator that I've ever received from someone who wasn't a professional editor. Either he's a great natural editor or the letter I sent telling him what kinds of comments would be most useful to me was pretty good...maybe both.

When I mentioned this to Alvina, she said she'd like to see that letter - so here it is. If anyone has anyone comments on IT, please tell me -- maybe this letter only worked well with him because he's so nice, and so good. I'd like to do more of this kind of work (ghostwriting for people with good ideas who aren't writers) - I really enjoy collaborating. When the two of us click, it's actually a lot more fun than writing something on my own -- and having a deadline and knowing someone is going to read every word with great interest makes me finish things faster, too. Anyway.....

"Dear __________________:
Here are the sample chapters of the ms. -- VERY ROUGH--and an equally rough chapter by chapter outline.

"Thank you for being so supportive and enthusiastic while I was writing .... and for telling me to take my time. It's only fair for you to get the same courtesy in reading it!

"When it comes to outlines, thinking things over usually helps.....and time spent doing a good job on the thinking saves a lot of writing time later. Also, as you will see, there is a lot of musical stuff for you to figure out/create. So please take as much time as you need to mull it over....and we can and should of course talk about it too.

"It will I think take less time to read and comment on the sample least, my experience has been that when it comes to reading a story or book, my FIRST reactions and responses are the truest and most helpful. So maybe it makes sense to talk about the sample chapters and the outline in two separate conversations?

"I think it may be really hard to read the sample AS A STORY, and not as a portrait of your people! One thing I do when I'm trying to get objectivity on something i've written is to print it out and makes notes by hand as I read -- that way, too, those first reactions don't get lost in later impressions.

"If you do that and tell me it would be enormously helpful in the rewriting. Specifically, I'd love to know:

*where you wanted MORE

*where you wanted less

*what's boring (just cross out anything that is boring, or if you're not sure what to cross out, mark where your attention started to wander)

*what was confusing

*what you liked: interested you, touched you, made you laugh, made you curious to see what would happen next

*what seemed unnecessary -- unrelated to the story

"THOSE are the kinds of comments that help a writer improve a piece! Or help me, anyway.

"What we will both I think have to be ruthless about (because I think we both have a tendency to enjoy making them up) are the descriptive details that are fun to think of and contemplate, but don't move the story along or develop character. Maybe our rule can be that we BOTH have to like them/think they add something or out they go.

"FOR EXAMPLE: the part about Nola's bright yellow bedroom and fluffy rug-- if it bored you, or you don't think it adds anything, we take it out.

"I hope the fun I had writing this translates into fun for the reader--but that you will tell me."


He DID tell me: we went over the draft for two and a half hours on the phone -- it was really fun, and not just because he loved and GOT what I'd written. His comments -- and, I have to admit, enthusiasm -- made it a lot better, which is after all the point.


Anna Alter said...

I like the idea of thinking editing a story based where you want more/less, it sort of brings editing to an instinctual level. Collaborating as you described it sounds like a lot of fun!

Emily Wing Smith said...

I've always thought it'd be cool to be a ghostwriter--growing up, I always wanted to write for The Babysitters Club.

I never thought about the collaborative partnership involved in various other projects. So interesting!