Over the weekend, one of my eighteen-month-olds decided that he was a big boy and could walk down Grandpa’s stairs all on his own.
After spending approximately six million hours on Saturday grabbing him seconds before he tumbled down a step taller than his legs are long, my husband reminded me that he comes by it honestly when I climbed onto the counter to reach the extra ziplocks instead of asking for help. Then he picked up both children himself and carried them to bed.
Is there a chance that my husband and I are just unnaturally stubborn and our combined genetics created two D1 level Mr. Independents? Yes.
Is it more likely that it’s human nature to try and do it alone in an attempt to prove something to ourselves or to remain in control of something that matters to us? Also yes. Or at least I really, really hope so because then maybe I can teach my kids to stop slapping me away when I try to keep them from choking on the seven fruit snacks they shoved in their mouths at once.
I was fifteen when I wrote my first novella length manuscript and, being fifteen, I immediately ran into the, at the time insurmountable, challenge of editing.
It was my white whale.
I depended on spell-check like it was my life raft and I had been shipwrecked. I only had an instinctive and superficial understanding of grammar and syntax, meaning I could usually tell you if you needed a comma, but it would be half a decade before I could tell you why.
And I could have overcomes those weaknesses if not for my absolutely crippling need to do it all myself.
Some of my resolve stemmed from a genuine belief that I really could do it, that I knew enough to edit my own manuscript. But most of it was rooted in the assumption that no one else would treat my manuscript the way I would. No one else really knew what I was trying to do, what I was trying to write. What if I gave my manuscript to someone and they destroyed it the way the Great British Bake Off destroyed s’mores?
I didn’t trust anyone else to do a good enough job to even let them try.
And so the manuscript sat there, half edited and gathering dust, while I tried to do it myself. It would be ten years, dozens of short stories, another novella or two, and a dozen half finished full-length manuscripts before I met someone who made me realize that doing it myself was ruining my manuscript faster than anyone else ever could.
Etta unintentionally taught me more about myself and writing than any writing teacher I’ve ever had, and one of the biggest lessons was that I was limiting myself, and everything I wrote, by dividing my attention between everything instead of depending on people who were smarter than me.
If I could build a village of people I trusted to do a good enough job, then I could do an even better job.
Novel builders are people that authors openly acknowledge having a huge impact on the final, published version of their novel. Whether named on a copyright or dedication page, builders are praised often. These include editors, sensitivity readers, research assistants, graphic designers, etc..
Builders are almost always professionals, people paid to do their job better than you could do it yourself, and rarely have a personal relationship with the author. In traditional publishing, builders are not only expected, but are often provided for you. In independent publishing, you have to find them yourself – and, if you’re looking, The Plottery offers editing services!
ALSO: Ready for an Editor?
Finding builders can be difficult for the simple fact that hiring a builder requires you to let go of control. It is almost guaranteed that an editor will tell you to remove something that you absolutely don’t want to remove. It is almost guaranteed that a sensitivity reader will catch something you missed and that’ll require rewrites to fix. It is almost guaranteed that someone, somewhere along the way, is going to want a change that you don’t.
But your manuscript will be better for it, because that’s what builders do. They build up your words.
Novel designers are people that authors privately depend on to help them get through the first draft. Although sometimes named on a dedication or acknowledgement page, designers are more often praised quietly and personally by the author. These can include coaches, mentors, beta readers, sounding boards, resident nurse on call, emotional support, etc..
Although some designers are writing professionals, like coaches and mentors, most aren’t and all have a personal relationship with the author. These are people who care about you and want you to do the best you can do. These people are already in your life, and likely already helping you along without any acknowledgement.
Designers are the people that talk you through the plot holes and or help you beef out your magic system. The friend that answers your late night text to tell you that someone would absolutely have a concussion if they were knocked unconscious. Maybe the nameless internet void that you scream into when the cursor is endlessly blinking on your blank page, taunting you.
And you will be better for it, because that’s what designers do. They build you up.
Gathering your Village
Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Lord of the Rings wasn’t written in a week, and it will take time to gather your village – but start gathering where you are.
If you’ve finished your first, second, tenth draft, start looking for builders. Pay attention to the genres that editors and graphic designers work in. Look at the authors and books that they’ve worked with before. It is easier to share a vision with someone already facing the same way as you.
If you’re just trying to find the energy to get to the final chapter of the first draft, start looking for designers. Research local or online writing groups – The Plottery has one on Discord! Tell the designers already in your life that you’re grateful for what they do. Start intentionally depending on the people who want to encourage you.
Even if it pains my little independent heart to admit it, I’m not ashamed to say that my writing has improved, my word counts have risen, and my endings have been easier to reach as I’ve gathered my village. Yes, I probably could do it alone, but I would likely have more plot holes and less fun.
Written for The Plottery
I’m Elizabeth Miles, but you can call me Lizzie! I am a full-time stay-at-home mom and part-time author during breaks from chasing down over-confident toddlers. Mystery, romance, and fantasy are my favorite genres for both reading and writing. You can find me on Instagram (@authorlizziem) and TikTok (@authorlizziemiles)!