Editing So Far
The hardest thing I did while editing my novel River of the Stick Wavers was to delete the first chapter: The image of an old woman traveling alone in a motor boat to a distant island. I thought people would wonder who she was and why she was traveling alone to an island. I mean, that’s what I was wondering. I wrote an entire novel in order to find out. I was very attached to it. How could I give it up? But I did. Well, that’s not entirely true. I plan to make it the epilogue of the story, so it won’t be completely lost.
Along with my beautiful beginning, I have also deleted five chapters of flash forward scenes that I thought would help to show the main characters development, but as it turns out, they would only slow the story down. Looking back, I still can’t believe I was the one who suggested deleting these chapters to my editor Sara after an afternoon discussion about my novel. Even as I said the words to her, I knew there’d be no going back. But I know it’s the right decision and will make my novel stronger.
There’s no doubt about it, editing can be a painful process. What is the term my editor used? Oh yes, “Kill your little darlings.” No truer words have been spoken when it comes to editing. All those beautiful words that were so painstakingly written sometimes have to go.
When Sara first sent my edit to me to work on she suggested that I read through all her track changes first, then take a few days to think about her suggestions. If I felt strongly about keeping something, that’s my decision. Her job, she says, is to help me realize my vision for my novel. I like that.
Now comes the hard part: Going through each and every track change…and well, changing them. Some are simple enough, like fact checking or keeping the characters names straight. This is why it’s such a good idea to have an editor to look over your work. They are your second pair of eyes. They see things that you can’t no matter how many times you read over your novel. Other changes will take longer as I will need to go back and do more research to add verisimilitude to the story. Those, I’ve made notes about and will take care of later.
Speaking of track changes–those little notations that your editor makes on your manuscript to help improve it–I’ve never used them before. So the first time I sat down to make changes I was learning on the job. But in the back of my mind I had this fear that I was going to fuck (excuse my language) it all up and lose my novel. It’s happened to me before. When I wrote my first novel I accidentally deleted the entire thing. I cried all afternoon. How could I be so stupid? I was sure it would happen again with my new novel. Not helpful. Anyway, as I was working away, I figured I had a handle on these track changes until I tried to make a copy of four pages to share with friends. The pages I printed showed all my changes on the right hand side of the paper instead of in the body of the page. Oh God! What have I done? I e-mailed my editor, checked the internet, and asked anyone I could think of who might be able to explain what happened. Each time I got just a bit more information, but not enough to move forward with my edit. Then I remembered that when I wanted to create my writing blog, I got help from the library where they have a group of young people who help computer illiterates like myself to understand what’s I’m doing. I called and made an appointment with John and he helped to demystify track changes for me. What a relief. I figure a learning curve on track changes is a lot less trouble than having to make changes on a manual typewriter or, heaven forbid, by hand.
One thing I have learned about myself as a writer during the editing process is I am good at writing description. I didn’t know that. In fact, my editor has pointed out that I don’t have enough description in my novel and has suggested areas where I could add it, thus bringing the story to life. I find I enjoy writing descriptive passages. In fact I now pay more attention to my surroundings, and want to know exactly what kind of bird that is, or the name of that wildflower in the ditch. All those little details that breathe life into a story.
I’ve still got a long way to go before all my track changes are done for the structural edit. But I will get it done. It hasn’t been easy to accept all the areas that need work, but I’ve been trying to look at it as a learning process. I know that with Sara’s help, my novel will be the best it can be. In fact that’s why I paid for an editor’s services. I know that in order to increase my chances of being read, my novel has to be the best it can be. The structural edit will do that. Then comes the stylistic edit. Wish me luck.