Cleaning Up After The Big Party
“I hate editing. It’s like someone ripping out your organs and dissecting them while you’re still conscious.”
This is a thing I actually said to my publisher. Now, mind you, I managed to score a job at said publishing company after being picked up for publication, so it’s not so weird that I was having this chat with her, but still, this is a thing I actually said to the owner of my publishing company.
Because it’s true. Writing is the party. You have fun, you hang out with friends, you make memories that will last forever. Editing is the clean up after the party. Cleaning cake out of the crevices of your table because your family decided to have a cake fight, vacuuming the chips off the floor. Throwing all those used cups and bottles away. And, most importantly, putting away all of the food you thought you’d need that you didn’t end up needing after all.
I am not a fan of cleaning up. And in much the same way, editing isn’t a fun process for me. As many authors do, I get fully attached to my characters and my words. So if the writing is the cake, and the editing is putting the cake away, than I try not to put the cake away and gorge myself on it instead (hey wait! My analogy is also true…I should probably be a bit embarrassed…but I’m not.). I refuse to kill my darlings, to use the proper writerly term.
Editing has taught me many things about my writing and about myself. The first, is that I’m a word hoarder. I love my words. YOU CAN’T TAKE THEM. Okay. I’m okay. I promise. And what do you know? I also have to fight to throw other things away. Everything is sentimental. Everything has meaning. Remember that shoebox? I really loved that day we brought home those shoes in that shoebox. I wish I could save it. We could use this shoebox for other things, right? And that’s how I feel about words that are cut from my manuscript.
The second is, I have issues with managing my anger. Actually, I always knew that, but I had believed I’d gotten it under control. As it turns out, I have the same problem during edits. My initial reaction to large changes in the story was to fight. And not just a little. “You don’t even understand my character!” I yell at my computer screen, red-faced. I cry a little. I honestly don’t feel any better until I sleep for a while. But when I wake up, something magical happens. Not only do I look at the world with fresh eyes, but I look at the manuscript with fresh eyes and I see that the editor may have a point. Probably has a point. DEFINITELY has a point.
The third is, I am not the exception, no matter how much I believe myself to be. It is impossible to see your own work clearly. I always thought this was a myth. If I looked at the story, I just had to pretend I didn’t write it, and I would see a world of things I could change and improve upon to make it work. As long as I didn’t believe my work was perfect, I wouldn’t have an issue. That’s bull. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from working with an editor is that the biggest fault I, as an author, have in viewing my own work, is that I know exactly what I’m trying to say. Like in any form of communication, it is far too easy to be misunderstood. And yes, you know what you’re trying to say, but the reader, or the person receiving your communication has no idea. So you either have to be clear, or you have to risk putting across an entirely different message than you were attempting to share.
That brings us to my final lesson. I have a six-year-old son, a husband, a day job at a law firm, family and friends that count on me, a job at a publishing company. I’m responsible and strong. Hell, I’d even say I’m smart. But when my novel first got into my editor’s hands, it had a problem. There were many great parts, interesting characters, etc. But I was told that sometimes the main character reacted to things immaturely. For a teenager. I am thirty-three years old, and yet, every time I found a note in my story that said my character suddenly sounded like a character in a middle-grade novel, she was doing something I had said or done recently.
So, I may be a little goofy. But I’m not immature. And here’s why. I have mostly survived. I’m nearly done with my edits. And you know what? I did them all. I may have questioned. At some points, I discussed and came to a compromise. But in the end, I sucked it up, and I dealt with it, because I decided I trusted my editor. So I let go and let him do his thing. And my story is 100% better for it.
The moral of this story is, once you’ve found a good editor, it’s okay if you feel terrible during the editing process, but if you trust them, you’ve got to let them work. Let them make your artwork a little shinier. It will pay off, I promise.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here, sewing my organs back together and returning them to my body cavity.
Justine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account @justine_manzano, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. The Order of the Key, the first book of her YA Fantasy series Keys and Guardians will be coming soon from Fantasy Works Publishing.