Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Editing is Scary...

There's nothing like getting your first batch of edits to make you feel like a complete fraud. I mean, you tell everyone you can write and have the nerve to send out your manuscript(s) to everyone on that assumption. But then you get your first edits from your editor and suddenly, you realize how much you don't know. Or perhaps it's that you discover other people now realize what you don't know. It's really scary.

My editor sent my first batch of edits to me and she was really nice. She marked passages she loved so that I would know she didn't think the entire thing was utter drivel. And I remember that she liked it enough to recommend the publisher buy it, and the rest of the staff at my publisher liked it enough to agree.

But now I'm looking at all my errors and places where my story time line got way out of whack and I'm thinking: What was I thinking? How could I have missed this stuff?

First, there are all the comma errors. Granted, the grammar book I'm using has a copyright date of 1948 because my dad used it to teach English at his first job, but gosh. It's pretty bad when every sentence has a correction to remove extraneous commas. Obviously, I'm comma-challenged, or maybe that's comma-obsessed since I have too many commas instead of not enough commas.

What really makes me feel completely unworthy, however, is my editor's blithe statement to "do what you need to do to make the chapter end here and begin a new chapter". This gives me pause. A great deal of pause. Because I don't know the formula for creating a chapter ending and chapter beginning. This lack makes me feel completely incompetent as a writer. Wouldn't a real writer know how to make a chapter ending and chapter beginning?

I sort of never think about it when I'm writing. I end chapters where there seems to be a break of some sort or when I'm just plain finished with a scene. In other words, when I write, I don't specifically think that I'm writing the end of a chapter and I don't specifically think about it when I'm writing the beginning of the next chapter. I begin at the scene beginning and I end at the end of the scene.

The good news is that after I got over the shock of realizing that yet again I had gotten uppity and over-confident when I thought I could write...I studied a few chapter endings. Then I looked at the place where my editor wanted a chapter break, and the break was pretty much already there. I just had to formalize it (if you want to put it that way). At least I hope I've done it properly and that she will agree.

Then, I moved on to the tougher stuff where I basically lost track of the time line and character locations. This turned out to be due largely to my own insecurity and need to please. You see, a lot of agents and editors were interested in this manuscript, but they all wanted various things changed--mostly to make it darker and sexier. Unfortunately, instead of telling them that what they wanted would not improve the manuscript and in fact messed it up, I tried to do the changes. With each change, it went more and more into the toilet.

Luckily, my editor recognized there was still gold in the manuscript. She asked for changes before she bought it, but the irony is that the changes she wanted brought it back to the original form. If I had had more confidence as a writer, I could have avoided making changes that did not help in the first place.

The scenes that are messed up are messed up because of trying to insert stuff that really didn't belong in the book (i.e. steamy sexual encounters) or wasn't true to the characters. When I tried to bring the book back to a more consistent state, I ran into some temporal difficulties that I'm still trying to straighten out. I think I'll get most of it done this week, however.

Isn't it odd that during this single phase of editing, I'm realizing how much I don't know and how much I instinctively know as a writer? That's actually presents a difficult dilemma. How do you know when something really is wrong because you don't have enough experience in your craft, and how do you know when you should stand your ground and Just Say No?

For me in this particular case, I should have held firm on making the characters do things they really would never do; things that simply were not in the characters' characters. :-) But I do need to work on comma-control and writing shorter chapters. Which is funny because as a reader, I love shorter chapters. As a writer, I have a tendency toward run-on sentences and run-on chapters.

Well, you never stop learning, and thank goodness.
And thank goodness for smart--and patient--editors.


S. A. Soule, Creativity Coach said...

Very insightful post! Loved it, thanks for sharing. A novel can became as perfect as possible by learning the secrets of revision and then editing like mad.

Editing takes much effort. It is not easy. Be ruthless. A writer should willingly turn over a manuscript to an editor just as like a gardener laboring to plant a garden, trusts someone else to weed and harvest it.

Amy said...

You are so right--and thanks for commenting!