Line edits to the left of me
Copy edits to the right, here I am
Stuck in the middle of you
This morning I waved at my monitor while the finished manuscript for my second novel, to be published in 2014, scooted out the door through my inbox and went off into the world without me for the first time ever. Though I’ve done this once already, I still felt a clutch of nervousness, the way I did six months ago when Burning Sky left for finishing school (otherwise known as editing).
I’m still in that editing process with Burning Sky, resting (not stuck!) and focusing on the new story that’s asking to be written, here in the lull between line edits and copy edits. But I wanted to write a bit about how it’s been so far, going through the publication experience for the first time, and something important I learned.
The five weeks I spent on content edits for Burning Sky were the hardest I’ve ever worked at writing. I developed aches I thought were still ten or fifteen years off from the long hours sitting in this chair (happy to say for the most part, they’ve eased up now).
Content edits: While many small and medium-sized changes were made throughout the manuscript, one major change to the storyline involved some hard rethinking on my part, re-plotting, and changes in some secondary characters. I went into those changes only half-convinced they would significantly improve the story, but fully convinced that I should trust my editor’s years of experience and do the work in order to find out. It didn’t take long (remember that photo of a table full of index cards with yellow post-it notes?) before I realized that yes, making that big change would streamline the story’s focus and help the pacing, which sagged in a few spots in the story’s middle. I got behind that change wholeheartedly and thus began those five intense weeks of rewrites.
Then came line edits. These are edits on a smaller scale, but just as important as the big issues we tackled in the content edits. Line edits zero in character motivation, consistency, clunky sentences, anachronisms, poor word choices, wordy passages, missing elements, and when some element of the story just isn’t coming across clearly, or seems contradictory. Which leads me to….
My big lesson through the process so far: It was enlightening to learn that in several cases what I thought was on the page had never quite made it out of my head. Perhaps it was there once, but by this stage I’d inadvertently deleted a key sentence or two in an self-editing pass, and never realized it because, well, the entire story (and back story, characters, and everything behind what they say and do) IS still in my head, and my eye tends to fill in those gaps on the page.
I think as writers we can learn to look with objectivity at what is on the page, even after dozens of passes over a manuscript (for some good instruction on this topic, check out Lisa Cron’s book Wired For Story), but nothing beats the fresh and objective eye of a talented and dedicated editor to let a writer know when she’s dropped the ball as far as presenting clear, logical character motivation throughout a novel’s entirety.
Though trusted critiquers, or beta readers, can come close!