I am a couple of weeks into this whole editing thing and I find that I am now the wiser man that I wished I’d been a couple of weeks ago.
When my editor delivered my manuscript back to me, I somewhat naively assumed that all I had to do was go through her suggested edits, decide which ones I’d accept and which ones I’d reject, and I’d be done. After four years and fourteen drafts I’d finally be ready to upload The Garden on Sunset to Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing website and I’d be off and running. Woohoo!
It turns out I’m more “off” than “running,” and all woohoos have been put on hold until further notice.
At about a quarter of the way through my manuscript, I began to realize I was teetering on the horns of a dilemma. But like the clever, sensible, realistic, and perceptive writer that I am, I completely ignored such a nebulous observation. This whole editing process had proved to be far more intense than I’d anticipated, and even though I had revised my release date to next January, I still had beaucoup work to do. Quite frankly, I had neither the time nor the patience to deal with any self-sabotaging, nitpicking, fishmonger-wife-nagging inner critics. So as the clock ticked past 10pm, I told them to shut the hell up and bugger off.
I then spent another three or four days squirreling my way through a few more chapters until the little voice stationed at the back of my head could no longer be ignored. “Helloo-OO-oo!” it bleated to me. “Don’t you think there’s something missing here?”
By that stage I was more than a third the way into my manuscript but I knew that my inner fishmonger wife was onto something. So I went back to the start and read through what I’d edited so far. The prose was certainly smoother and sharper, which is a good thing. And the story now sped forward, no longer mired ankle-deep in unnecessary adjectives, irrelevant tangents, awkward phrasing, and spoon-fed facts that any reader with more than seven brain cells could figure out for themselves. This is also a good thing. My editor had helped me to fulfill the goal of every writer: tell the story effectively in as few words as possible.
But for all its improvements, it now read like it could have been written by pretty much anybody. Somehow my literary voice had been left on the cutting room floor. Or had it? Was I right? Who knows? Not me. I’ve been working on this thing for four years which means I haven’t been able to read it objectively since the time that Icelandic volcano was choking aircraft engines over Europe. But I suspected that I was right so I started to put back in a phrase here, a sentence there, the odd tightly reworded paragraph. But even then I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Was I just indulging myself?
I got to the end of chapter 25 (i.e. a little over halfway) and had Kinko’s print it out and got Bob to read it. He’s one of three people who’s read a previous version so I wanted to get his take on how the book now flowed.
By about chapter five or six he had confirmed my worst suspicions–that the story shot along almost too fast, that this book no longer read as though it’d been written specifically by me, and there were none of the quirks that make my writing mine. That is, until he got about halfway though when, he said, things began to change for the better. That’s about the point where I’d decided to listen to my inner fishmonger’s wife and started to put back the non-essential words, lines, thoughts, and reactions that made my story uniquely mine. After all, don’t we all have favorite authors? And aren’t they our favorite authors because of the way they tell their stories? If this novel of mine had read like it could have been written by any damned person you yanked off the street, why the hell would you even think about buying/downloading/borrowing/stealing book two?
So now I’ve returned to page one and have started the editing process again, this time trying to find a balance between “efficient story telling” and “that’s-so-Martin story telling.” I’m only at chapter four at this point but I thi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ink I’m getting there.
To make me feel better, my editor sent the following list to help me keep my perspective. It worked…even though it did push me three steps closer to the nearest bottle of gin. It said:
The Publishing Process. This is the process a book must go through before you find it on the shelves at your local bookstore:
Write manuscript – Proof – Edit – Proof – Edit – Proof – Edit – Proof – Edit – Proof – Design – Typeset – Proof – Typeset corrections – Proof – Typeset more corrections – Proof – Make ready for press – Proof blueline – Print – Bind – Ship – Distribute books.
Not all these steps are involved in the making of a self-published book like mine (for instance, I’ve never even heard of a “blueline” which I think is like a draft copy) nevertheless, it shows how long and complicated this process is. It did make me feel better, but I think I’ll still go for that gin.