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.
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