© 2017 Sean Easley | Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Hotel Between artwork by Petur Antonsson

Meaning Informs Creativity (or how I learned to love my editor)

June 7, 2017

Meaning informs creativity. Whenever we put pen to the page (or fingers to the keyboard, or camera to the subject...), our goal is to take a piece of our brains and share it with other humans. That means our creativity has to keep those other humans in mind. 

I started thinking about this when I went back to read some of my old journal entries and text I'd generated for a project. As I scanned the page, I kept wondering what I was thinking--really--when I was writing. See, even journal entries are written for other humans. Today I'm a different person than I was then. And honestly, some of that communication didn't come through, because I wasn't focused on future-me; I was stuck on then-me. I'm not sure what I meant by some of those phrases. Even some whole concepts I'm sure I understood then go right over my head when I read them today. 

That's because when I wrote that stuff, I was more concerned with the writing than I was with conveying the appropriate meaning. Writing and creating is so often a selfish, me-focused activity. When I sit down at my computer, it's all about what I want to say. What I like. What I want. 

But we can't stop there, because we as writers are just one person broadcasting with a megaphone. We'll be heard, sure, but will we really be understood, in all the meanings that matter? Will anyone care what we have to say?
 

 

This is where editing and revision and iteration come in. So many people think that creating is all about generating that first product, whether it be a book, an article, an email, a film. But that kind of creating is just thinking out loud. People won't understand what you mean until you move beyond "what I want to say" and think real hard about "what I hope people will learn and understand." How they'll hear you. What they'll think when they read certain words or phrases, and what it'll mean to them based on the lens of their past experiences, their culture, their reality. 

It's why we creators need feedback like editors and beta readers and test audiences. Let's face it... what we create may mean the world to us, but if it's going to have value for others we have to go out of our way to hone our work with those others in mind. The act of creation is for us; the act of editing is for everyone else. 

This is something I did with HOTEL BETWEEN. When I finally got a draft I was starting to feel good about, I ran it past a group of kids in my target audience (in this case a dozen or so awesome middle school readers). They told me what worked, and I was grateful for that, but they also told me what didn't. Some told me they felt left out, so I put in the work to make sure they felt included. And while some of what they said made me a little sad, I'm so very happy with what happened to the manuscript as a result of their feedback. Without them, the book wouldn't be what it is today, and what it will be when it comes out in 2018.

So don't forget to involve others in your process. It'll make all the difference.

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