So, I got the edits back for the first three chapters of my novel back yesterday. I’ve gotten edits back for short stories before, and they mostly consist of “can we move that word around” and “this sentence isn’t really necessary,” to which I generally agree wholeheartedly. I usually accept edits with very little protest, simply because while I have faith in my ability to put together a story, I don’t have nearly as much faith in my skill as a wordsmith.
The one thing I’ve always regretted about not getting my novels traditionally published was missing out on a professional editor. So C and I earmarked the tax return money for this year to get the first novel edited, then send it out to the world of e-publishing.
Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how empowering this process is. When I stopped beating myself up for my inability to write a proper synopsis and “sell” my story to a publisher and instead focused on the abilities I do have, everything became much easier. I’ve got 2 artists working on my cover and my internal maps, I put out feelers to multiple editors, and I’ve been working to force the book into a good enough condition that I can send it out without feeling like I failed to make my child presentable on her first day of school. I’m not focusing on judgement, or whether or not it makes any money, or anything like that. I just want to get it out where I can share it with people.
So back to that point… editing. My friend BD* put me in contact with a lovely editor* of their acquaintance, and after contacting her, she agreed to review my first three chapters on a sort of “trial basis” of editing. Probably so that she could judge whether the full work was worth her time, and so I could judge if this was a working relationship I wanted to pay to be in.
I wholeheartedly do. There was very frequent contact between us as she negotiated other projects (to which, naturally, the unpaid work took second stage) and filled other obligations. I even sold a story to her magazine while we were at it, which was amusing and gave us both, I think, a sneak preview into whether I was a pain in the ass to be edited and whether she would make unreasonable demands as an editor. She even gave me a heads-up on the day before I was to receive said edits, occasioning me to cancel all other plans so that I could sit home and lean on my F5 key all day.
For those who do not know, I have some fairly profound anxiety issues, ADD and some medicated mental illness. That means it’s a bit difficult for me to deal with being over-stimulated at times. When her email with the edits attached came in (absolutely lovely, not only line edits but also a general overview of what she saw as the faults in the writing in general and what she saw of the story so far,) at 2:49pm I spent a lot of time glancing at the email long enough to read a bit, then running around the house to find something to clean.
I was a bit like a puppy, actually. So over-stimulated that given the opportunity, I might well bite the shit out of someone, despite being in no way unhappy. Directing myself onto household chores that I could do for 15 minutes or so before diving back into the edits was the best I could do. Focus for any length of time was really impossible.
I’ve found that I always write best if I’m “stealing time” from something else. I used to write so much better when I had an outside job, if I wrote during dead times at work. I write well when I’m supposed to be cleaning or cooking something specific, or if I’m supposed to leave the house to go somewhere. I have the habit of turning on Skyrim (it blocks my computer from doing anything else, frankly) and then writing longhand, playing occasionally as I search for a word or my characters are changing the scenery around. Sitting down and trying to force myself to do work my brain wasn’t on-board for never works for me. I envy people who can be workmanlike with their writing (Steven King is one) but I am not one of those people.
Of course, the edits themselves were immensely comforting. Not because she went easy on me (I don’t believe she did – editors that pet down their writers and don’t slap their writing in line has lead to some very disappointing sequels in several series… and I’m gonna leave it at that and not name names) but because I understood every single thing. There’s not a single cross-out or highlight that made me go “Huh? What is she even talking about?” And only one note that made me go “Well, that complaint gets taken care of in later text, it just doesn’t seem relevant immediately.”
Most of the line-edits I sheepishly agree with. I’m very verbose. You… may have noticed that thus far. I love words and sentences, I love to be understood, and in an effort to have things understood I often get tiresome and redundant. It overjoyed me to have someone yank the reins and go HANG ON NELLIE! Some of them made me cringe with embarrassment because yes, I clearly don’t need that… and that sentence really sucks… and I feel very amateurish now. And since that was the point, I’m happy to have that.
More to the point, a couple of the overview note she gave to me were so spot-on I cried a little, because they’re problems I already know are there but I’ve never been able to articulate well enough to fix. Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing! Now that I know that, I can’t find it easier and kill it on my own (one hopes!)
At least one of the notes was so frustrating, but she was kind enough to actually reply back-and-forth with me a little bit on some of those issues. Again, there was so much enlightenment for me in this brief exchange. I now completely understand how most of the authors I read put thanks to their editor in the acknowledgements of every single book. It’s amazing to be able to go back and forth with someone who seems to really get the way you write and how to punch it into shape.
And as important as any of that, she said “I think you’re too hard on your writing. You’ve got more skill than you give yourself credit for.” And “I was intrigued by your story and if you think I’m a good match for this project I would be happy to continue working on it with you.” Those two things together as as much as I could have really let myself hope for from a professional. I’ve had many friends read the books over the years (some of them multiple times in multiple 100k+ drafts, and for that I love and deeply pity them…) and they’ve always told me the books are enjoyable reads. But I’ve never felt confident they were enjoyable enough that someone who didn’t already love me would like them as much. Those comments gave me hope on that score… without sparing my feelings as they punched the text around.
Due to the high levels of stress and energy I was expending yesterday, I went to be super early (3 hours before I usually even consider toddling off) so now I have all day to make lovely notes and tear everything up and see what I can do about applying these edits to the rest of the story.
And I can already see how shit is going to trip me up in here. This is the disadvantage to having already written three and a half books in this series and getting the first three chapters edited… there’s so much stuff that will need to get combed through the rest of the text. And I’ve been living with this story for decades at this point (though to be honest, it bears almost no resemblance to its original, thank godzilla) so standing far enough back from the story to get a good look at the text itself is sometimes difficult.
But I will leave those musings for another post. Then I’ll have one to write!
* I have deliberately not linked to these two people, because at this point it seems presumptuous? I feel like I need to finish all the money-related details before I can really say “this person is MY EDITOR!” They will be linked later, but right now I just feel too thin-skinned to want to drag attention onto the post. Which is why I publish it on the internet, naturally