Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Edit Process: Of Tires and Pastry Chefs

(This started off as a reply to a fellow author on one of my publisher's private author email lists. They had written in asking for help dealing with their first edit, because they were freaked out about what they had to do and how much editing they had to do to it. After writing this reply, I figured it would make a good blog post. LOL)

I don't want this to come off sounding "bad," because it's meant to be helpful and to help you (and any other newbie authors) not to stress out. LOL Okay? I just wanted that disclaimer up there so you don't think I'm trying to be sarcastic or a bitch. (I can be both of those things, sometimes at the same time, LOL but I don't want you to think I'm trying to in this case. *smile*)

First of all, if this is your first edit, RELAX. What you have to realize is houses will contract books where the story and/or "voice" appeal to them. Mechanics and house style can be taught. Voice and the ability to tell a story...you can't teach that. Either you can do it or you can't. You can help a writer hone their abilities, but someone is either a writer or they aren't. Simple as that.

Even a writer such as myself, with over twenty-five titles to my credit, learns something from every edit. I also have twenty-plus years of editing and non-fiction writing behind me, as well as twenty-plus years working on honing my skills.

Treat your edits like a learning experience. Learn from them. Are there times you should stand your ground on something? Yes, but a lot of times, the editors are right. If you have beta readers who all agree the point is fine, but the editor doesn't, then it might be a case of the editor just didn't read it the same way. Or if you like something, but everyone tells you to change it...consider changing it.

Never view your book as your baby, your masterpiece, a work of art, or something "precious." If you do, you're setting yourself up to be a diva and on the short road to being blacklisted. I've run across newbie writers who insisted they didn't want to change "perfection." Most are either not published, or haven't published subsequent books. I'm NOT saying you're being like that, I'm saying that to give you perspective.

Your book is your COMMODITY. It's a mass-produced PRODUCT. Do you think someone sits at the Goodyear tire factory and loves every tire that comes off the line? No. They get the work out there as fast as possible and done right. Yes, the creation process of a book is slightly different, but think about the people who designed the tire and created the original mold for the tire. Did they sit there freaking out every time they hit a bump in the road in the testing process? No. They figured out how to fix it, make it better, so it could go into production to the masses the best it could be.

Then they probably started work on the next one.

Now then, yes, it's an artistic venture. If you don't like the tire analogy, think about a pastry chef for a large catering company. He (or she) will want to make a beautiful dessert that's pleasing to the eye and other senses. It's gorgeous. But they send it out knowing it's going to be devoured. They don't hold onto it. They don't do anything except work to make their work better.

Now, I'm not saying you won't get emotionally caught up in your work in the creation process. You SHOULD. That's what separates a good writer from a great writer. BUT...



When it comes to the edit process, you have to be as vicious as that pastry chef tossing out ingredients that will detract from the final product. They might want to use blueberries in it, but blueberries, no matter how much they love them, might not work well. So out they go.

Now, if the pastry chef makes a sample for a customer and the customer wants changes, does the pastry chef say, "Well, why did you hire me if you want changes?" The customer knows the pastry chef can deliver, but they have ideas the chef could and should listen to to make sure there is a good working partnership.

And the best chefs are never so egotistical to refuse to learn from others. They can carefully weigh the options and perhaps take some suggestions and discard others, but they will do that with consideration.

Now, all that bullshit aside... *LOL*

What it sounds like is you have a good case of raging page blindness going on. Take a deep breath and shut down the file for a while. Go work on something else. Go read something else. Go DO something else. Whatever works for you.

The most successful writers know that their job is a balancing act. They learn to keep emotion involved in the creation process, then ban it from editing, being as cutthroat as necessary to make the final product the best it can be.

Take editing as the humbling and ego-adjusting process it rightfully should be. Learn from it. Use what you learn in your writing and self-edits to fix these mistakes in your next book. One book you might learn how to eliminate extraneous uses of "was" or how to fix head hopping. The next edit might teach you to get rid of filler words. Whatever it is that is your particular weakness(es), use the edit process to learn to better your craft.

Because, in all honesty, that's what professional writers who can claim this as their "evil day job" to the IRS do. :) So congrats, you're doing what a lot of wannabes never get to do -- learn the reality of life as a professional writer. :)

Also, you can take a look at the "You are Not a Special Snowflake" post I did a while back.

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