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Editing A Novel: The Necessary Evil, by Lish McBride

If you have ever read any interview I’ve done or any blog post I’ve written before, then I’m positive that you’ve heard me whine about editing.

I hate it.

I hate it so much that I want to stab things.

With spoons.

Then I want to rub salt into the wounds and deny them antibiotics when the wounds become infected.

Last time I complained on Twitter about editing my friend, and author, John Connolly (we’re friends, John, whether you like it or not) said, “What I admire most is your stoicism.” (Or something like that.) John’s little way of telling me to stop whining, because really I was being a big baby. Editing is part of my job and I need to suck it up.

But that’s what editing does – it reduces me to a tantrum-throwing child. Why does it do this, you ask? Is it because I disagree with my editor or think my novel is perfect? Absolutely not. I have been blessed with amazing editors. Not only have they been kind and gentle folk but they have also been really good at their job.

My current editor, Noa Wheeler, has always been great about reminding me that I can always argue with her, but the thing is I generally never want to. Sometimes I’ll come up with a different solution to a narrative problem that’s been voiced, but that’s about it. Every draft that my editor touches gets better. She’s good at her job and she’s amazing at seeing what I want to do. If she doesn’t immediately get what I’m going for, she asks me questions until she does. So no, I have no beef with my editor. I’m also lucky enough to have a hands on agent who does revisions with me as well.  (And I’m sure the idea of my producing a perfect and clean manuscript has him howling. He likes to point out all my typos and errors.)

And I most certainly pretty much never think my books are perfect. I work on them until none of us can look at them anymore and then we send them out into the world. Most writers would continue to fiddle with their books until the end of time if given the option, and publishers just can’t wait that long.

Editing is totally necessary. My books would be bad without it. So why do I hate it so much, then? I think it’s mostly because editing frustrates me. I don’t get the same sort of emotional exercise or whatever I get when I’m writing. For whatever reason, writing acts as a mood stabilizer for me. If I don’t write for a few weeks my family is basically shoving me back to my laptop. I become a huge, high-strung jerk. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

When I edit, that stabilizing effect doesn’t happen and it adds to my frustration of working on the same page over and over again and knowing that I’m not getting it quite right. I write another project while I’m editing, if I can, but that isn’t always an option.

There are some writers who love editing. They reserve the joy I have for first drafts for the editing process. They all seem like nice, well-adjusted people, so I feel like I shouldn’t tell them that they’re wrong, even if I think deep down that they are. When I tell them that editing, to me, feels like running in wet sand – a whole lot of energy expended and very little movement – they look at me funny. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

No matter what kind of writer you are, though, editing is always necessary. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. So buck up, little camper, because you’re in for the long haul. I’ll give you a little example of how things work for me when writing and editing a novel:

  • Write draft.
  • Send to agent. He sends me edits. I rewrite draft. (Repeat process 3-5 times)
  • Cry. (Not really. Usually I just growl and complain, but most people cry, I think.)
  • Both of you throw up your hands and send it to your editor.
  • Editor calls you and you discuss the changes necessary and come up with a plan of action. (This stage is also generally repeated several times.)
  • Finally, you can move on to the next stage—hard copy of your book with notes from editor and copy editor. This stage is also repeated.
  • Manuscript is accepted for copyediting! Do a dance of happiness! Try not to think about the fact that you’ll have a few rounds of copyediting to do. Just dance instead.
  • Book has been formatted and looks great. Now copyedit it.  Again. And possibly, again.
  • Suppress urge to burn your novel.
  • The book is done! And if you’re like me, you’ll probably never want to read it again. You’ll just want to look at the shiny cover.

The stage where I edit with my agent might just be your own editing or editing with a group of beta readers. Also, my last book got kicked out of copyediting by marketing, which I didn’t know could happen, and so I had to repeat a few steps. All in all, I usually do 8-10 drafts of a novel. I’m a sloppy writer, though. You might take less. You might need more. It takes as many as it takes. I suggest getting one of those little stress balls. And maybe you should start jogging or something. You’re going to need it.

Homework: Look up your favorite authors and see what they have to say about editing. (Holly Black has a great blog post where she shows you a page diary of a book that she’s working on and it shows you how many times she deleted her work. It’s strangely comforting.) Many of them will talk about the drafting process and how hard it can be – and how necessary. Hearing other people’s stories can give you hope when facing your own editing woes. You’re not alone, friend. They might offer great tips as well. They might also tell you when you need to say no to an editor. I have a sweet deal with mine – we’re in sync, but that isn’t always the case. A poorly matched editor can do more damage than good on a manuscript, so keep that in mind. That being said, just because you don’t agree with an editing note it doesn’t mean it isn’t right. My agent likes to point this out to me all the time when I finally realize that he’s right about something. He’s nice about it, though.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hate editing, but not as much as I despise rewriting. I’m the kind of writer who rewrites more than proofreads. I despise it but do it anyway. My current novel, which I plan to query, went through like 9 rewrites before I was satisfied with it. I hope that did any good.

    March 17, 2013
  2. Worst editing story I ever heard was Kristin Cashore’s for Bitterblue. After receiving only minor line editing on her first two books, she sent the manuscript for the third to her editor, who replied, “Cut 300 pages. In fact, why don’t you start over from scratch.” She meant it in the kindest way, and Cashore says it’s the best thing that could have happened, but imagine getting that note! Here is the article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/51975-giving-birth-to-bitterblue.html

    March 17, 2013

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