editing

I’m at that crucial juncture where I’ve got more than half a book done and I need serious input from my editor, except I can’t ask her. My experience has been that it’s a very bad idea to get the editor involved at a crucial juncture, no matter how much you might actually need her. Because the editor is the one who bought the book; s/he went to the editorial board and publisher and pitched the book you wrote, sold them on it, fought for the money, and presented the package to you (or better said, to your agent). So the editor has a vested interest in the book, and cannot be objective. It’s also just plain hard to send a half manuscript to somebody who has ventured their reputation on your ability to write the damn thing when you’re feeling fragile.

Here’s what the cover letter would look like:

Dear Editor:Why did I ever think I could write this book? Better asked, why did you think I could? Because here I am more than half way through it and nothing seems right. The characters strike me as insipid and unbelievable, the plot sucks, and I can’t write a harmonious sentence to save my life. Obviously I’m done writing, forever.

PS thanks for the great advance.

Possible responses, as I imagine them:

Dear Writer: Crickey, you’re right. It is crap. I see no hope. Send back the advance, today. With 5% interest.

Dear Writer: This is the most beautifully written, funniest, most insightful and moving piece of fiction I’ve ever come across. It’s finished. Here’s a million dollar bonus and a first class plane ticket to come to Manhattan so we can celebrate.

Dear Writer: It needs more (sex/violence/insight/character development); now don’t bother me until you fix it.

Dear Writer: Stop whining and get back to work.

None of this is what I want to hear, really. There’s no editor in the world who can tell me what I need to hear, which is something along these lines:

Dear Writer: Breathe deep. You’ve done this before. You’ve done this many times before. You can do it again. I’m not going to read what you sent because you’re not really ready for me to read it, are you? I thought not. I have total faith in your ability to pull this off. What you need right now is a massage, and an afternoon with a good book and a box of chocolate. Tomorrow you’ll look at this manuscript and know what’s right and, if anything, what needs to be fixed. It will all happen. And if not, you have two advanced degrees and lots of other interests, right?

Towards the end there my inner demon editor got hold of the keyboard again, but that’s the general idea. In a nutshell: you’re alone when you write, and you have to live with it. Pardon me while I go try to gather my senses and see if we have any chocolate in the house.

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6 Replies to “editing”

  1. Dear Sara,

    Breathe deep. You’ve done this before. You’ve done this many times before. You can do it again. I have total faith in your ability to pull this off. What you need right now is a massage, and an afternoon with a good book (might I suggest Into the Wilderness?) and a box of chocolate. Tomorrow you’ll look at this manuscript and know what’s right and, if anything, what needs to be fixed. It will all happen.

    Hope this helped.

    Callie ;-)

  2. You are not REALLY alone. We are always with you. Just picture us standing there, smiling at you. We’ll love the story, the witty banter, the struggles and the passion. You can’t lose with more passion.

  3. Not only are you a good writer, but you have trained good writers. Or so I flatter myself to believe. You have done this before and, as you have told many students over the years, the main trick to doing it is just to do it. I have every confidence that this tenet will assert itself and you will be victorious over the mid-novel panic attack.

    Nice to see you’re blogging.

    By the way? You once chastised me for mocking British cooking without every having tried any. Well, I finally went to Great Britain and can now say with complete authority that the food is, generally speaking, every inch as bad as I’d always heard it was. Though some of the nicer sit-down restaurants in Scotland were positively brilliant.

    (Who am I? Hint: tallish, attended some of your classes in 1998-99, moved to Seattle after and enrolled at the UW.)

  4. You know I’m not a sentimental person, generally. Really. But it means a great deal to me to hear from former students, even those with obviously compromised taste in food. How is UW treating you? And to be sure I’ve got the right person, are you still writing sci fi?

    To Zelda and Callie — many thanks, you are very kind.

  5. You have the right person, but I’m no longer writing sci-fi. I’ve gone over to creative nonfiction, in what I like to think of as a shameless attempt to trade on the sensationally marketable tragedies of my childhood. It’s actually going somewhat better than I’d anticipated. Otherwise, the UW and I parted ways some years back– me with my sheepskin in hand, them with a stack of tuition money and some memories that will no doubt haunt them until the end of their days. Seriously though– how you can go from Pacific Northwest fish and chips (robust, thick, crisply breaded) to that business they push in the UK (sodden, flat, thinly breaded) and continue to defend Anglo cuisine in general is really beyond me.

  6. I would recommend the chocolate definitely (cadbury or dove), the afternoon with the good book, a long, leisurely walk while listening to some inspiring refreshing music (Beethoven’s sixth symphony perhaps?) and the knowledge that there are literally legions of fans out there who respect and enjoy your writing!

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