The Emotional Stages of Editing

heart-touching-feelingsRecently, I’ve been working with a copy editor to put the finishing touches on my YA mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two). Our mission:  to identify and correct all typos, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and overused words/phrases in my novel. Thankfully, we’ve almost reached the end of this back-and-forth editing process which has been successful (yeah!), but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. Because I experienced a similar set of emotions when editing my first novel, I’ve outlined my own Emotional Stages of Editing below in order to help other writers going through this harrowing ordeal–or at least to make them laugh.

Emotional Stages of Editing:

  1. Fear–Your publisher notifies you that the copy editor has your manuscript. She’s probably reading it right now. Will she like it? Will she hate it? Will she understand your jokes? You break out in a cold sweat and lie down in the fetal position while repeating positive phrases in your head.
  2. Anger–A few days later, you click open the Word doc entitled, First Round Edits, expecting to see a few extra commas and comment proclaiming “WELL DONE! BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR!” but what you see instead is a blur of red typing and strikethroughs. As your eyes focus on the specifics, the heat rises to your face and your hands shake. Why has the word “that” been added to the third sentence of the opening paragraph? Why have those two short sentences been combined into one long run-on sentence? Where is the joke about the baby llama who works at the cheese factory? This editor is trying to ruin your book! You’re sure of it!
  3. Despair–After exchanging a livid email voicing your displeasure with the suggested changes, the editor sends you a point-by-point outline of why she made each change. You slump into your chair and suck in your breath as you realize she was right–an em dash does work better than a comma in that sentence, and the word “that” is sometimes grammatically necessary. How could you have made so many mistakes? Your book must be horrible. Once again you curl up in the fetal position, only this time no positive thoughts pop their way into your head.
  4. Determination–After several martinis and a good night’s sleep, you open your “motivational phrases” Pinterest Board and realize that no mountain is too tall to climb and everything worthwhile is worth fighting for. You determine to get through these edits, one by one, word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. You sit down at your computer and start re-reading your book for the 803rd time.
  5. Hope–The editor looks through your responses and sends you round two edits. Hey! There are only a few comments this time. And she added that joke back in–the one about the baby llama and the cheese factory! She probably realized how funny it was the second time she read it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  6. Joy–All edits have been approved by both parties. The work is done! You jump up from your chair and wish you had a co-worker to high-five. Your dog will have to do. Soon your publisher will present you with the most dazzling cover ever created. Oh, the joy of all this hard work coming together! Editing isn’t so bad after all…o-book-wrapped-gift-facebook

Revision Tracks

I’ve been writing my newest novel–an adult thriller set in the world of real estate in downtown Chicago–for about a year now. I finished the first draft six months ago, and then added to it and revised it several times, including paying for a Revising-Your-Manuscript-4-Easy-To-Use-Revision-Techniquesprofessional edit. I knew my novel still needed a few tweaks, but I patted myself on the back thinking it was basically finished. After setting the manuscript aside for a few months, I blew away the cobwebs about a month ago, and asked a trusted and knowledgeable writer friend critique it. I so badly wanted him to tell me that it was perfect, that I should go ahead and send it out to agents, that it would be a best-seller. However, this is real life and that’s not what happened.

At first, some of his comments about my writing made me defensive. This book had become like a baby to me. No one likes to be told their baby is ugly. I spent a few days thinking about his suggestions, however, and realized many of his criticisms were correct. My main character did need more of a motivation for his actions, I did use too many similes, I did explain too much, etc. The realization my novel was not only incomplete, but that I might have to rewrite the entire thing, made me want to find the nearest tall building and jump off. The task before me seemed insurmountable. I had completely wasted a year of my life. What was I thinking? I crawled into bed, vowing to never write another word again.

Athletics_trackThankfully, I have a husband who is experienced in talking me off of ledges. He reminded me that he loved my book and that the two other people who had read it also enjoyed it. Yes. Maybe it needed some tweaking, but if I focused on one thing at a time, I could get it done. That’s when I remembered something I’d read a few years ago about “revision tracks”. Following different tracks of revision translates to reading through a work-in-progress several times, only focusing on and revising one thing each time. Changing just one thing isn’t so difficult, right?

I’ve already begun my first revision track–reading through my novel for unnecessary similes and removing them. Next, I’ll tackle creating a deeper back story for my main character which will make his later actions seem more believable. Then, I’ll move on to something else. You get the picture. The point is, now my revisions seem doable, and I’m actually excited about them! It’s simple and straight-forward–breaking an insurmountable task into smaller pieces is the best way to make it less daunting.

Have you struggled with revisions? What strategies worked for you?