Editing a manuscript is one thing you cannot shortcut. The process is direct, personal and, if you’re not ready for it, editing will rip the flesh from your bones, leaving you and your story a quivering mass of gelatin.
Like most things in life, I’ve learned this the hard way. You’ve finished a draft of your novel and you should take the time to throw yourself a little celebration. That pile of paper represents hours, perhaps months of dedication and you are a finisher.
That draft isn’t ready to be let loose upon the world. It’s time for the rewrite. And rewrite. And again. You tune that manuscript until you can’t look at it anymore. And when that point hits, you start to hear the voices of self-doubt grow louder and you smell the torches of the townsfolk coming to burn your precious creation.
Who you have look at your manuscript, as a reader, or editor is critical. You need people who will be honest, objective and not simply tell you what they think you want to hear. As it turns out, when I’m at this point, I start to channel Samuel L. Jackson…
Me: There, done!
Sam: Done? Done? Oh, well, allow me to retort.
Sam: Nobody wants to read 250,000 words of disconnected plot parts and half-baked characters. If I can’t get invested on the first page, I ain’t reading it.
Me: But there’s good stuff here. What about the part where sister-in-law of the main character’s third cousin, goes shopping…
Sam: Oh, please. No one wants to hear that crap. This reads like an Ikea Assembly Manual.
Me: But people have told me they like it.
Sam: People? What people? Hunt them down and do whatever it takes to get that manuscript back. That trash will come back to haunt you. Find it. Get it. And Burn it.
Me: But, this book in done…
Sam: Don’t give me that. Put on your big boy pants and finish what you started. You can’t just leave it like this. Cut the emotional ties to this thing, put your ego aside and edit it down to the bone.
Me: I can’t cut it down.
Sam: Then hire a hit man to do the dirty work for you, if you can’t take the thought of blood on your hands.
Me: A hit man? An Editor?
Sam: Yep. Find someone who specializes in what you write and have them do it. They don’t have the same connection to the words and will tell you if your baby is ugly, or not. Honest, cold, hard truth.
Me: So, how, exactly do I hire a hit man?
Sam: You read, don’t you? Find authors you like and read all the small fine print in the front matter of the book. They’ll often tell you who the editor was and how to find them. Then it’s up to you. Make contact, follow the instructions for a manuscript drop under a park bench at midnight and don’t look back.
Me: How do I trust a stranger with my book baby?
Sam: Again, knock off the personal stuff. Trust is earned bucko. The editor has as much on the line here as you do. If you hand over a semiliterate bucket of word piffle, any editor worth their salt is going to tell you that the manuscript is destined for a life as birdcage liner. They have to put their name on this too, so a legit editor won’t sign off on toxic waste.
Me: I only need an editor if I’m going independent and publishing this myself, right? So, I don’t need to get an editor for traditional publishing, because that’s what they do.
Sam: And what are you gonna use to get a publisher’s attention? That pitiful excuse of a manuscript will find the acquisition desk’s recycle pile with land speed record pace. You have to make them believe you have talent, and they have to believe that the manuscript is in decent shape before they invest scarce resources on your book. Get it professionally edited.
Me: Well, that does make sense, I suppose.
In a haze of ozone, the voices stopped.
I did find an editor for my upcoming novel, Hollow Man. She was amazing and easy to work with. Not once did she make me feel like I was an imbecile, but she did nudge me from time to time to keep me from wandering onto the tracks. Check out Karen Crain’s website, here, if you’re thinking about hiring a hit man.
Reblogged this on Leigh Michaels and commented:
Some excellent advice (with a little humor thrown in for good measure)!
I’ve been a “quivering mass of gelatin” for weeks now, obsessing that I’ll never turn this draft into something I want my name on. Thanks for the humorous reminder that I don’t need to do this alone. I’ll force myself back to my desk (your new desk looks great, by the way), knowing that once I’ve rewritten to the point of not being able to write anymore, I have a lead on a “hit man” to spot what I can no longer see.
That “quivering” point had me for the longest time. I finally ginned up the courage to get a really good editor on board. I had some fits and starts with the last one, but this new hit man seems right on target. Good luck with yours, Diane…
This clearly shows you can infuse your information with comedy and do so quite well! I had to get an editor, too. Not so much for cutting the chaff I loved, but for cleaning up after my rewriting hatchet job.
Thanks very much Laura! Yep, the clean up seems like a crime scene at times.
And now I’ll hear “word piffle” in SLJ’s voice all night…
I think if you listen carefully, SLJ uses that phrase in the “what’s in your wallet” commercials.
[…] For me, and I’m guessing that I’m not alone here, writing is addictive. The more you do, the more the urge to write builds, exactly like heroin. If I can’t chip a little here and there, I’ll start withdrawals, the shakes and hearing voices. […]
A “hitman” is an absolute must. Love the use of the meme, btw. 😉
Thanks very much, Jess. I’ve learned the hard way and always have a hit man on the payroll now. And, I admit I had fun with the meme.
[…] A Voice on Editing and Ego […]
[…] not enough. You also need someone who’s unattached to the work to mercilessly tear it apart. While it can hurt your ego, it’ll improve your writing tenfold. And if you get an editor who also functions as a writing […]