Step away from the manuscript


Three weeks ago I heard back from my editors, about the first set of edits I’d submitted for How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House. For the most part, they were very happy with my revisions. There were, however, still a few more changes to be made. And so we entered round 2 of the editing process.

About two months ago, I’d submitted my revised manuscript, in response to the editorial letter my 3 editors sent to me a little while after we’d signed off on the contracts for my book. We’d decided that one editor would send me the editorial notes that all 3 had made and I’d liaise mainly with that person, to make communicating a little easier.

After I’d submitted that first set of revisions, and while I waited to hear back from my (main) editor on the changes I’d made, I fell victim to the type of anxiety I’m told many writers suffer at this stage. My revisions were lousy, I told myself, I haven’t heard from the editor because she doesn’t know which part of the hopeless mess to address first. As a matter of fact, I reasoned, her delay in getting back to me was because she was, at that very moment, having to justify to the other 2 editors, herself (and everyone else who’d agreed she should acquire it) why she’d acquired the book in the first place!

As it turned out, there was a very good reason why I hadn’t heard back from my initial editor (she was leaving the company and transferring her list) but those weeks of waiting served an excellent purpose – I took my newly revised manuscript out of the drawer, dusted it off, and re-read it with the changes I’d made in response to the editorial letter.

I was mortified.

In short, with the benefit of a break from the line-by-line work I’d been doing, I had the opportunity to read the revised manuscript again as a whole, as a reader, and not as an angst-ridden writer trying to respond to the achingly accurate observations my editors had made. That wider reading laid bare the parts where, to me, the edits I’d made stuck out like the sewing on a badly patched sock. My changes were not seamless. As a matter of fact, in some parts, they didn’t seem to make sense and stood out for all the wrong reasons. I’ll give you an example. In one section, my editor observed that I needed to do more to set the atmosphere for the action taking place at that point. So I did. On a re-reading, the atmosphere was vivid but felt over-written in parts. Those sections seemed as if they’d been magnified x1000 while all the narrative before and after maintained the x100 magnification I had started out with. The gradual build in narrative (and not just dramatic) intensity was missing.

These were the same changes that, just a few weeks before, I’d been more than satisfied with when I pressed ‘send’. I’d made my edits with the editorial letter open on the screen and ticked off each observation when I was happy that I’d addressed it in my revision. What I hadn’t done was edited for integration.

I marked up a printed copy of the revised manuscript as I read and re-read it. Along the way, I fell in love with my characters and their stories all over again – and I was again convinced that not only was this a story worth telling, but that I was worthy of being entrusted with the telling.

I emailed my editor and my agent. My new editor was happy to read the re-worked revision and comment on that instead of the previous submission. Exactly one week later she’d not only read the new version, but loved it. There were new edits, but not a lot, and I’m sure the end of this stage isn’t too far ahead now. Better still, I am really happy at the improvement in my manuscript, which, at the end of the day, is what editing is all about.

Lesson? Be responsive, but don’t rush the editing process, and don’t (just) approach it as a to-do list of disparate corrections. Take the time to not only address individual edits, but their seamless integration into the soul of your story.

See you on the other side!

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