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The Editing Process


I have been dreading this part of the publishing process from the moment I put the last period (full stop for you UK folks [edited] ) to the epilogue of the raw manuscript. The thought of a weed-whacker being swept through it just chills the blood. Precious words falling to the wayside, cut down, abandoned, ultimately forgotten as they are swept away. All those months of sweat and headache… well, it’s not over.

The rewrite was painful enough. I knew where the major flaw was in the writing. Those blasted first three chapters that just would not blend into the rest of the book caused me no small amount of cussing and head scratching. I pushed, pulled, tweaked, snipped, juggled, wept, cursed, shoved, tore and did just about everything I could think of to bring the sullen brats into line with the rest of the family. Nothing, nada, no success. They spitefully laughed and continued their ruinous plans to not conform.

There reaches a point where you are lost. No direction seems the right one. It is all a blur and you can’t change the view enough to reach clarity. You bog down and set it aside in the vain hope that some distance will change your perception if you just wait a couple months before revisiting the pages. Nope, still nothing. Even my readers confirmed that those three chapters were step-children, separate from the rest.

In despair, I finally faced the truth. I needed my editor to give me a direction. Pull out the weed-whacker, trim the words, show me what is beneath the unruly mob. Rake the yard and see how the lawn looks now. The process is difficult. Letting go and just allowing the process to show me the way is new territory. I don’t always deal well with changes. This was a big one.

Then came the edited Prologue. My heart clenched as the strike-outs blasted into my stinging orbs. The column of notes with their wickedly pointing lines scrolled down like an invading army.  My fear was magnified as I realized my sacred, precious word count was about to start falling like autumn leaves. Even whole sentences were speared and laid low by those strike-outs. I wanted to cry.

Only for a moment though. That cooler, rational part of my psyche whispered in my ear, “You wanted this. It is necessary. She will show you the way out of your mess and make it shine even more. Trust, accept and learn.” I listened for a change rather than ignoring such insidious words. It made sense. I began simply deleting the struck-out words, after a brief review of each. All save one word early and one sentence I couldn’t understand once the strike-outs were to be done. Those I saved for questions for the editor. She would tell me what the problem was.

The notes, those were harder. Directions, questions, suggestions: all quite good, though half way through I realized I was getting lost. I picked up the phone and a cigarette. We talked our way through the notes, me reading sentences and her explaining, clarifying what the notes meant. I got it then. This process was NOT destructive. It was liberating! We spent an hour and a half going through over 12oo words that became 1000 and change. We solved the mystery of the struck through sentence and I justified the one word I challenged. (Changing a prior word saved my favored one, go figure!)

It was a good learning process. I am happy with the result of the process, this beginning. Still have a long way to go though. The solution for my wayward three chapters is harsh. They must die. I will cannibalize the remains for the meat of substance and place them elsewhere in the book. That solves my issue. They don’t belong, but the information they imparted had to be salvaged. The way is shown.

I am actually looking forward to receiving those first three chapters back. The strike-throughs will be my guide. They are actually an act of love. I understand now the glowing acknowledgements and love I see in book after book after book on my shelves. The editors are heroes in their thankless duty. They see to the meat and bone and give books their final nudges into true life. They are apart and part of a process that no author, if they are honest, can do alone.

Thank you Maggie, with all my heart and on behalf of a hopeful manuscript that might yet live!

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