Confessions of a Word Miser: My Experience with Line Edits

I have a confession.

I hold tightly to my words. Letting go of them is no easy thing.

But that’s exactly what I’ve had to do this past week as I’ve worked through line-edits.

I have another confession.

Of all the things that lay ahead as a contracted author, line-edits made me the most nervous.

Here’s my truth. I’m in love with words. I love stringing them together in creative and clever ways to paint pictures for the reader. I don’t like deleting them. And I’m super protective of my voice.

So the idea of line-editing scared me.

I admitted all this to my incredibly talented line-editor, Lissa Johnson, and she said it’s a common malady for writers, especially beginners. Which makes sense if you think about parenting. We tend to be much more uptight with our first born, don’t we?

So how did line-edits go? Did I have to get rid of words I wanted to keep? Does the writing still sound like me? Was it as painful as I feared? Is the story better?

Good. Yes. Yes. Yes (but not in the way I expected). Very much.

Allow me to elaborate….

I deleted words I wanted to keep.
This is a reality for line-editing. I had to delete some of my more creative descriptions. One of the things I loved about Lissa was that she didn’t just tell me to delete them. She explained why they weren’t working.

Descriptions shouldn’t pull the reader from the story. Not even for the sake of admiring the prose. We can get away with it on occasion, but the more often we do it, the more we risk creating a choppy read for our audience. And choppy’s never good.

I’m learning that subtle and simple is usually best. A hard lesson for a writer who tends to go purple.

My voice is still my voice.
Lissa suggested changes, and even made changes, but she did so in my voice. She stayed true to who I am on the page and put to rest my biggest fear: That by the time this story makes it to the shelf, it will no longer sound like me.

Line-editing is painful.
Yes, it is. But not for the reasons I expected.

Deleting a beloved description wasn’t the painful part.

Having to scrutinize a novel I didn’t want to scrutinize was.

I had to look at so many of my words and make sure they meant what I wanted them to say. I had to look at so many of my details and make sure they were accurate and well-researched.

And I had to do it all while wanting to chuck the story out the window. At this point, I’ve edited this thing more times than I can count.

Combing through it so meticulously yet again made me cross-eyed. My lovely editor, Shannon Marchese, assured me that my strong feelings of dislike toward my story were very normal.

The pain is worth it.
Saying goodbye to some of my words was hard. But after stepping back, I discovered that Lissa was usually right. The changes improved the story. And although I might be permanently cross-eyed, it’s now much cleaner. Much smoother. Much better.

I’m learning something I always suspected. Editors are amazing. At least the good ones are.

And when it comes to editing, we’re wise to ignore those feelings of defensiveness, embrace some humility, and trust that they know what they’re doing.

Chances are, they’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have.

Let’s Talk: What scares you most about getting a book ready for publication? What excites you the most?removetweetmeme

Two Tips to Make Life Easier

I’ve discovered that editing a contracted book is trickier than editing one that’s not yet contracted.

Notice, I didn’t say harder. Just trickier.

Allow me to explain.

Here’s how the writing process typically works:
– The writer engages in some level of brainstorming
– The writer writes the rough draft
– The writer engages in some level of revising

Usually, these happen successively, which results in a very intimate knowledge of the story. The further we move along in the process, the more deeply we know our characters and our plot. Until we reach this point where the manuscript is complete and ready to shop.

So what do we do?

We send it off. We say goodbye. And we start all over again.

Which is why editing a contracted book gets tricky.

I finished Beneath a Velvet Sky in the summer of 2009. It was my third novel. The one that caught the attention of my agent, Rachelle Gardner. Since then, I have finished two more novels and written the rough draft of a third.

Not only has a lot of time passed since I knew Beneath a Velvet Sky intimately, but three other story lines, three other casts of characters, have come and gone in my life.

Have you ever had a friend, who at one point, you knew incredibly well? But then you lost touch and time passed and you made new friends? And then you run into this old buddy at the grocery store or the gas station, only to discover you don’t really know each other anymore?

That’s what editing a contracted novel feels like. Especially for a debut novelist.

That’s one of the reasons I believe the editing process for a contracted novel is so intense.

My editor asked me some deep questions about my hero and heroine. Questions to which I no longer knew the answers. So not only did I need to dedicate a chunk of time toward implementing the requested changes, I had to spend a considerable amount of time reacquainting myself with the story. I had to regain the intimacy that was lost.

So what? What’s my point in all of this?

I have two, actually.

See that picture up top? Save your work. 
Character sheets. Back story information. Outlines. Deleted scenes. Information about the setting. Research on the characters’ jobs. Save all of it. Put it all into a file and do not delete.

If you don’t create these items beforehand, write them after. 
As in, after you finish the novel but before you say goodbye. I know it sounds weird, but consider writing a simple summary of the setting and each main character. Make sure to include important back story information, personality, quirks, fears, and the way the character arcs through the novel.

Seriously. You won’t regret it.

Let’s Talk: What lessons have you learned as you venture forward in this writing journey? Any simple tips you can share that might make all of our lives easier?removetweetmeme

Handling Content Edits

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my in-house editor on revisions for my debut novel.

You may be wondering what it’s been like.

Allow me to tell you a quick story.

After I gave birth to my son, my family came to meet our baby and asked Ryan, “How was it?”

He turned to them, looking more than a little shell-shocked, and said, “Intense.”

That’s exactly how I’d describe this. Intense.

As I’ve worked through the issues in my book, I feel like I’ve lived more inside my story than I have outside of it. I’ll come up for air and see my husband standing there and think, “Oh, right. You’re here.”

Before I signed my contract, I always loved when authors would share their experience with in-house edits, like Jody Hedlund does here. I enjoyed getting a sneak peak inside her life. To dream and anticipate when that day would come for me. So now that it is my turn (crazy, crazy), I thought I’d return the favor.

Other than intense, what exactly has my in-house editing experience looked like?

Keep in mind, every publishing house is different. And I’m sure, even within the same publishing house, authors have differing experiences. I can only share mine.

First, my editor and an outside reader read my book. Before she combined the feedback into an editorial letter, or revision memo, we discussed the major areas of concern via telephone.

It was a very casual conversation. Basically, she wanted to ask me some questions and run some ideas by me. I absolutely loved being included in the process.

After our conversation, I had some time to think about her suggestions. There was only one that I felt uncertain about, so I called my agent and she helped me process my thoughts and offered her own. One of the many, many reasons a good agent is invaluable.

A few days later, I received the revision memo.

I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t start pounding just a wee bit faster. It turned out to be nine pages, single-spaced. A very typical length, I think. My editor started with encouragement, a lovely way to start, assuring me that she loved and believed in my story.

Then she moved on to the tough stuff. Things that needed improved.

One of the things I had going for me was a tightly written plot, which meant the overall structure of the book was solid. I attribute that to my psychotic habit of outlining.

There were, however, two big issues that needed attention:
-My main character’s arc
-The romance between my hero and heroine

I think most of you know this, but in case not, I write romance. It’s a huge part of my books. So to find out that the romance between my hero and heroine wasn’t working….

Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest thing to swallow.

My natural inclination was to respond, “But, but….look at all this juicy tension I created. I can’t mess with that. What would Donald Maass say?”

After taking a deep breath and reading through the rest of the memo, I soon realized that:

1. She was right. Tension is good. But if that’s all there is, it makes for a shallow romance.

2. It wasn’t a lost cause.

She offered several solutions that would fix the problem without diffusing the tension, which made me excited. I could already see how much better my novel would be if I could rise to the occasion and fix what needed fixing.

So, there I was. Revision memo in my possession. All kinds of questions zipping through my head.

Which leads to our second phone call. My editor called me again and we talked for over an hour. She answered my questions, helped me brainstorm, and clarified the confusing spots.

But, that’s not all.

This is where I believe I’m incredibly lucky. This is where I sort of get this feeling of awe for my editor. She doesn’t just stop with a revision memo. She sent me my entire manuscript, with in-text notes.

I cannot tell you how incredibly valuable this has been for me as I work through my revisions. I’ve told my husband several times, “I don’t know what I’d do without these notes!” They’ve acted as a road map. Not to mention, many of the comments are downright funny.

Now here I am, two weeks later, finished (I think) with the major revisions.

So how did I do it?

Here are three tips for surviving a content edit:

Solicit the help of your family.
I asked my husband, my dad, my mom, and my aunt for help. The thing I’ve learned about revisions such as these, is it’s hard to jump in and out of the story. I needed to dive into the story and have large chunks of time to stay in the story. So my dad watched Brogan for an entire day, my aunt and grandma took him several evenings, and my husband took a father-son weekend trip to see his cousins in Wisconsin.

Tackle one issue at a time.
I focused first on their relationship. I went through with the deliberate intention of giving them points of connection. Once I got that out of the way, I switched my focus to my main character and looked for ways to make her more likable, more consistent. I continued until I crossed all the major concerns off my list.

Leave the simple stuff for the end.
As I write this post (Saturday evening), I just finished the last of the big stuff. But I’m not done. I still have to read through the manuscript, do some fine-tuning, make some secondary characters less caricature-like, add some more details to the setting, and make sure my prose don’t get too purple.  But this stuff feels much less daunting than the big stuff. Which is why I saved it for last.

When I finish, I’ll submit the story to my editor and wait anxiously to see if it needs additional revisions, or if I’ve turned in an acceptable manuscript. I’ll make sure to update you as soon as I find out!

For more information on the editorial process, check out these informative posts by my agent, Rachelle Gardner: Do Publishers Edit Books Anymore (to which I can answer a resounding YES!) and The Editorial Letter.

Let’s Talk: What, if anything, surprised you about the revision process? If you’ve gone through it, what was your experience like? Do you have any questions for me about my experience? If so, feel free to ask them in the comment section. I’ll either respond directly, or perhaps turn your question into its own blog post.removetweetmeme