Monday, April 30, 2012

The Joy (and Terror) of Editing

These days I’ve got my nose to the grindstone, hard at work on editing my third novel—Rift Jump—due out this summer from Splashdown Darkwater. Getting back edits on your novel is something akin to being sound asleep in the security of your ability, only to have some objective third party douse you with a pail of cold, harsh reality. There’s the knee-jerk anger (How dare they tell me I have a POV problem—it’s supposed to be that way!), quickly followed by self-pity and defeat (Oh, they’re right. I’m a terrible writer). It’s a familiar roller coaster and I suspect it’ll never get any easier. But, if you can tough it out through the first few stages of Writer Denial, you finally come to a weird sort of euphoria. You begin to look at your work as objectively as you can and start cutting away the unnecessary parts. Little by little, you’re left with this little gem.

Is it perfect?

An emphatic “NO”. When I began this writer thing, I was convinced that I would get to a point where my craft was honed. I’m talking like a deadly point, able to obliterate through all editorial critique, and pierce the heart of every reader with the ring of truth.

It doesn’t work like that. There is always, and I mean always, room to grow. It’s a hard lesson. Not just because you realize you have so much more learning to do, but because you look back at earlier works and see them for all their flaws.

With every editorial process, I learn something about myself. I see faults in my craft, and holes are punched in my most beloved stories. I don’t love them any less, though I might be a little more reluctant to share them with people out of my self-conscious paranoia :p But all I can do is move forward, trying with every book to be the best I can be, and hoping that I don’t embarrass myself too much along the way.

Once the euphoria of forging a tighter manuscript begins to fade, I’m usually left with a new feeling. One that brings me joy and terror.

The last minute rewrite. 

I sit there, cradling my creative baby, realizing that this will be the last time I read over this manuscript. This will be the last time I edit it, the last time I think about it, the last time I work on it. Then it’ll be out of my hands, off to the printer, and into the homes of readers to dissect her or discard her (or maybe, if I’m really blessed, love her). And, undoubtedly, after I’ve spent some time away from the manuscript and have worked on a plethora of other projects, I come back to it afresh with—gasp!—new ideas. I’ve thought of a subplot I want to add. I’ve thought of a character I want to elaborate on. I’ve thought of more dialogue, more scenes—better scenes! There’s that moment of joy that my imagination has been sparked, and I’ve rediscovered these characters and their world! Then there settles the fear of adding and subtracting. What if that new subplot is stupid? What if adding that scene completely alters the course of the story? What if everything was fine the way it was? What if I submit it to the printer and THEN get a “brilliant” idea that I must add?! What if, what if, what if!

It’s hard letting our babies go. But it’s a part of life and a part of the writer’s life. Ultimately we have to do our best and send them out into the world, trusting that we’ve given them everything they’ll need to succeed. I've been tinkering with Rift Jump since I was fifteen years old or so--it's time to let her go. Will she be without flaw? Never. But I'll still love her, just as I love all my babies. I hope you will too, warts and all :)


Bruce Hennigan said...

Oh, man do I feel your pain!
I remember listening to Simon Cowell on American Idol and hearing all the groans and boos when he made snarky comments to a singer. And, then, I listened to what he was saying, not HOW he was saying it and he was right!
I've had the same reaction to my editor. With "The 13th Demon" I received 6 pages of detailed changes and I almost sent back my Charisma contract and the advance check. I kept thinking, "Who do YOU think you are? You're not a writer! Go back to your day job!"
But, then I really looked at what he was telling me and he was right! I could make that scene better. I could tighten up this dialogue. And, we can live without this character all together.
Greg, it is painful releasing that baby out into the world. But, at some point you have to say enough is enough and let it go. I think God probably feels that way about each and every one of us. Only, He still tinkers with us and pushes us to get better each day. And still, we will have warts!
Congratulations on the alternative book. Keep us all posted!

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

The rewrite isn't my favorite part of the process, and after I received my several pages, I have to walk around the house and talk to God a while before I get into it.

But every time, the book is better and stronger, so I thank God for my editor. And I thank her when we are finished. Usually with a small gift.

Bruce Hennigan said...

I wondered about the gift. I've wanted to shower my editor with gifts AFTER we are done because my book is ALWAYS so much better. Is it appropriate to give gifts to your editor? What about your agent? I'm new to this writing life and I was just wondering.