I don’t mind most aspects of the editing process, but there is one thing that really bothers me: when I’m editing my own work, I become extremely critical of other people’s.

In a way, it makes no sense. These are published books I’m finding fault with, so obviously they’re doing a lot of things right. Most things, even. Who am I to criticize? Me, way down here. Hi.

And I’m not- at least, not where anyone else can see. It’s not that I’m huffing and puffing and throwing books against the wall (usually), then taking to the internet to rail about how I could do so much better. Not at all. I have so much respect for the work that people put into their stories, that their editors do to make it the best it can be, yadda yadda.

All I’m saying is that when I’m editing my own work, it makes it very difficult for me to enjoy other people’s, because I’m subconsciously analyzing everything, evaluating it the way I’m evaluating my own work, spotting the things I would consider fixing if the story was mine, things that work and things that don’t. And it’s really, really annoying.

Right now I’m reading a book I got for Christmas, and of course I’m not going to mention the name of it here. It’s an interesting book- fresh take on the vampire thing, I think (I’m only a few chapters in), where they’re monsters and not love interests. Yay! I should be enjoying it, but it’s hard when my brain won’t just shut up about “uh-huh, jumping right into the main conflict,” or “yep, slipping backstory in there, very smooth.” And that’s when things are going well. I got to page 53-ish and found out (because it’s actually stated outright) that one character is on a mission to save the world, and another is THE KEY TO SAVING ALL MANKIND OMG, and I wanted to put it down and read something else.*

Are those bad things in and of themselves? I guess not. It certainly sets the stakes high, doesn’t it? Now it should matter to me whether this guy succeeds at winning over the special girl who doesn’t know she’s special. But I was disappointed, and that’s probably not fair. Is the “savior of the world” thing overdone? Yes, but that’s no reason to think that a new take on it can’t be exciting. But all I can think is “well THAT was clumsy… Try to save the world, please, but don’t tell me you’re doing it!” If it was a library book, I’d probably have quit. Again, unfair, but I’ve done it before.

And the little things, like a character frequently saying things like “I felt the wind blow my hair” rather than just telling me that the wind blew her hair (obviously you feel it…). Things that I can see people picking on if I wrote it, and that I therefore try to be careful not to overuse. But when I’m reading, I’d like to be able to not notice that, to just see the wind blowing her hair (and/or her feeling it).

At least this one’s not overdoing the adverbs. I recently put another (very popular) book down because the writing style bothered me, and that was a big part of it. Effective when used sparingly, irritating when every time he grinned it was wolfishly, and every time she hurried is was quickly.

I read so much about what works and what doesn’t in writing and why that I pick it out in everything I read. My life has become a high school English class, and it’s driving me insane.

I wish I could let it go when I step away from the computer. I know my work is as bad as or worse than anything these people do, and that I’m probably doing a lot of the things I’m so critical of. My writing certainly has flaws that I’m blind to. I don’t mean to be critical. I just want my brain to shut up and enjoy the effing story already.

Does anyone else have this problem, or are you able to compartmentalize, to leave work at the office, so to speak?

*I’m still hoping that it turns out he’s wrong, that she can’t save the world through her powers and they’ll have to struggle together to find another way. How fun would that be?!


About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with six cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. View all posts by Kate Sparkes

20 responses to “Critical

  • Wendy lowden

    Ah…the “Shades of Grey” series is …um….let’s just say I only read the first one and found myself wishing you had been the editor

  • Jae

    *shrug* A lot of books could use substantial improvement. I think you’re in that transitional period. There are books I’ve read that are supposedly written by NYT bestsellers, but they’re boooooooring. There are other books, maybe a little bit hoaky, but with a decent amount of tension and story I make it through easy. Sure there’s stuff to be nitpicky about, but that’s the problem in living today. We’re inundated with story ALL the time. There’s nothing new. So now I look at stuff (take Firelight for example) that is a recycled plot I read in a certain vampire book (called Twilight) but I liked the way they did it in Firelight. It worked better. It’s not the best story ever, but now I’m left thinking, okay, why did that work better for me? What was the difference? And I think that’s where editing my own stuff has brought me.

    I think it’s rare that you’ll find a book anymore that really wows youβ€”which is what a lot of the agents are complaining about. Think about how much Donald Maass lamented it in Breakout.

    I kind of make it a challenge. What would have made this book better/cooler/more interesting/etc.? Unless it’s really awful. Then I put it down.

    Well, that be my ramblings on the subject. Gotta go, I am feeling the wind blowing through my hair. πŸ˜‰

  • mysticcooking

    I have this problem all the time! The critical of other books problem, not the headache super powers… πŸ˜‰ The worst is when it’s a book I absolutely loved years ago, and then I reread it and notice all the flaws…so sad. Still, I know it’s a really good book when I’m able to just read it without my inner editor pulling it apart, and I think being a critical reader only makes your writing stronger, so it’s mostly a good thing. Hopefully. πŸ™‚

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