You Can Write, But You Can’t Edit

Tennessee Williams at his typewriter

The title of this post comes from a song called “Edit” by Regina Spektor. You can listen to it here. Another lyric from it that often resonates with me is: “White lines on your mind, keep it steady, you were never ready for the lies.” Having just finished the first round of edits for my new book that is due out next year, this song became an ear worm that I could not shake this week.

I’d been introduced to my editor back in September or early October and had to answer a few questions and fill out a form about my book. Then, while the editor read the book a few times and did his thing, I worked with an artist on the book’s cover. I’ll be sharing that soon, but everyone who has seen it so far has loved it.

On the last Tuesday in October, an emails pops up with my manuscript and my editor’s notes attached. “Can you have this back to me by November 2nd?” the email read. That was one week. One week away. Um, sure, yeah, I can do that. I think.

I read the notes first, which were very helpful and gave lots of praise which I soaked up like a sponge. Creatives always question the worth of their abilities and their talent. But as soon as someone says, “I liked it,” your doubt melts and you turn into a puppy getting its belly scratched.

My editor focused on four opportunities to enhance the novel and make it better. I agreed with all of his suggestions and immediately sat down to work. I even had to learn out to use Track Changes in MS Word which was a daunting task at first, but I eventually caught on.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know my writing schedule. I have 30 minutes in the morning, Monday through Friday, before I have to get ready for work. And those 30 minutes can be magical (sometimes). I sit down. I turn on the computer. The characters show up and we all get to work. But sometimes, I’m the only one who shows up. I also have several hours on weekend mornings. I say “mornings” because that’s when I have the most success and when I feel the most creative.

Last week, those 30 minute morning shifts didn’t go so well. Three days passed and I was still struggling with just the first chapter. My editor had mentioned that the first 50 pages needed the most work because they felt like a completely different genre. He was right. I think when I started writing this book I had intended it to be literary fiction. It slowly turned into a murder mystery. I just needed to trim some of the unnecessary fat and get the plot moving faster. If “kill your darlings” was ever good advice, that was now!

Rather than attempt to edit, I completely rewrote the first chapter. I got rid of one character all together who wasn’t an integral part of the story. This meant I had to go through the entire manuscript and write out all of the scenes where this character appeared.

My editor complimented my writing style quite a bit and said some of the prose was beautiful, but one again, this was a mystery which meant I needed to crack the whip and get things moving along for the reader. Suddenly, I felt like Edward Scissorhands passing out haircuts, only I didn’t have an audience to cheer me on. I’d earn my audience and their praise next year after the book comes out.

I kept going back to my editor’s notes again and again to make sure I was taking advantage of and building upon those 4 opportunities he’d mentioned. Once I got out of those first fifty pages, it was smooth sailing. I spent several hours on Saturday and Sunday, working all the way into the early afternoons until I had exhausted myself and knew I needed to step away.

I had some extra vacation days to use up with the day job, so I decided to take Monday, November 1st, off from work just to have one final day to get this edit done. I was done by 9:30am that Monday and I was a day ahead of schedule. Throughout the week as I was editing, I kept making several notes to myself on a piece of paper that I kept next to my computer. Before turning in my homework, I looked over my notes and realized it was a check list of various plot points and such that I needed to double-check. Thankfully, I’d written down page numbers! So, I gave the full manuscript one more pass and checked off my list before hitting send on an email back to my editor.

Sometimes I feel like an old whiskey or wine maker. I love leaving a finished manuscript alone for some time to let it age like spirits in a barrel. I finished writing my book, Are You Sitting Down?, in 2007, but I let the finished manuscript sit until 2010 before I finally decided to pull it out, edit it, and publish it. (By the way, that book is now available as an audiobook, so check it out!)

Yeah, the manuscript doesn’t change on paper. Not yet. But it changes in my mind and I feel like I’m approaching it with a new set of eyes. I had not read my book or touched the manuscript since it was accepted for publication back in June. That helped me with this edit and I was able to make the changes that were suggested to me with quite a bit of ease once I got over that first 50 page hill.

Turns out I can edit!

More info to follow (including a book cover reveal), but THE ANSWERS YOU SEEK is due out next spring!

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