Tag Archives: receiving edits from your agent

Going Under the Knife

One of the best pieces of writerly advice I ever read was this: don’t compare your first draft with someone else’s finished product. In other words, don’t read published books and despair that your own writing isn’t of the same standard. To do that is to forget that the writer of the book you admire has been through draft after draft after draft, and then several edits either with their agent or an independent editor, and then perhaps several more at the hands of their publisher. How could you expect your own writing – which you’ve worked hard on, of course, but which hasn’t had any of that editorial help – to measure up? You couldn’t, of course. Every single book you love, and which is currently for sale anywhere, started out as a first draft, full of holes and hand-waving and ‘I’ll fix it later’-itis; they all needed help to get where they are.

And you know how ‘help’ sometimes doesn’t feel like help – say, when you dislocate your shoulder and the doctor yanks it back into the socket for you? Yeah. Well, being edited feels a bit like that. You know it’s absolutely necessary, and that it’ll make everything way better, but it’s going to hurt. It’s not going to hurt forever – in fact, the pain of it is but a moment, in the larger scheme of cooking up an idea and making a book out of it, which then goes on to outlive you – but you still don’t want to face up to the fact that you have to go through it.

Yeah. So, I started my edits yesterday.

Photo Credit: Mike Schaffner via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mike Schaffner via Compfight cc

To be entirely fair, though, I have to admit that, so far, they haven’t been as painful as I imagined. I have found myself quite happily slicing out whole paragraphs of overwritten purpleness, keeping my eye on a tendency to repeat words in quick succession (I almost wrote the word ‘out’ twice in the same sentence there, but – ha ha! – I caught it, just in time!) and realising, weirdly, how often I have my characters make the same gestures over and over. People grab one another’s hands a lot in my book as it stands, but once the editing scalpel has been passed through it, all that nonsense will fall away. Hearts currently do far too much hammering, and breaths are doing a lot of catching and glooping and stuttering – but their days are numbered. I’m like Zorro, except with the Delete button.

Harder than excising hundreds of hard-won words, however, is the fact that reading my editorial notes has made me think, really hard, about complicated plot stuff that, to me, seemed obvious. My agent (the most hardworking woman in the British Isles, and no mistake) has flagged up several places in the story wherein what’s happening makes zero sense, and that was harder to take than any slaughter of innocent adverbs. I got quite angry with myself yesterday, in fact; if I haven’t been clear, and the reader doesn’t get what I’m trying to say, I told myself, that means I haven’t done my job properly.

For rule #1 is: If a reader doesn’t understand what you’ve written, it’s never the reader’s fault.

This is a major issue, but it’s not a novel-breaker. It would be a massive issue if I hadn’t a clue what was supposed to be going on at those points in the story, either, but luckily that’s not the case. The only thing keeping my own heart from hammering my ribcage flat and my breaths from turning to porridge in my lungs is the fact that I know what I want this book to be; I just haven’t done a clear enough job of expressing it. I thought my subtle hints and my oblique references to stuff were enough to get the message across, and I thought – because these characters came out of my head and I know them inside-out – that it was clear as day when they were being sarcastic, or lying, or evasive. Now that I’ve had the privilege of reading my own story with editorial notes appended, I can see that I simply haven’t given my reader enough to work with at several points in the text. That’s my fault – that’s an error with my writing style. But it can be fixed.

It’s going to be a long, hard, and slow job of work to get these edits done. Yesterday, I toiled for hours and got about 60 pages in (less than a quarter of the book, in other words), and that was only shedding excess verbiage and fixing overwritten sentences and rejigging dialogue tags and cutting away unnecessary sentences which were slowing down the action – the bigger issues, like unexplained plot, will be tackled in a second sweep.

Then, it will be back to my laser-eyed agent for another critical assessment, and after that we’ll see. One thing I know for sure is this: it’s going to be a better book when I’ve finished this process than it would have been without it. Painful as this book-surgery is (for there’s no anaesthetic against this particular knife), it’s the most important part of the process.

So, I best get on with it, then. This slicin’ and dicin’ ain’t gonna do itself, right?

Brain like a Triangle, Heart like a Wheel

Today, dear reader, my brain feels like a triangle.

Bzzzt! Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

Bzzzt!
Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

Yep. One of those ones, the type that spell ‘danger!’ This is a natural consequence of dividing my attention between three things, simultaneously: my almost-finished first draft of Eldritch, which, until last Friday, had been going well; the notes and ideas I’ve been getting for the book codenamed ‘Web’, which have been flooding my mind ever since I stopped working on it, and the fact that sometime early this week – perhaps even today or tomorrow – I’ll be getting back a bunch of edits on Emmeline from my agent.

There is much work to do on Emmeline. This I know. I’m preparing for the absolute worst – i.e. an editorial letter which tells me that my agent is sorry she ever signed me to begin with, and that she must have been crazy to think she could slap this sorry excuse for a book into some sort of shape – in the hope that it won’t seem as bad as that when it actually happens.

I’ve also been practising my deep, cleansing breaths.

(I may also have purchased a bottle of whiskey to have handy while reading the edits, but that’s our secret).

I’ve been busy while waiting for these edits to arrive, of course – I’ve added over seven thousand words to Eldritch since last week, which I think is pretty good progress. There’s still a way to go with it, however, and I won’t be finished before I start working on Emmeline again. What this means is I’ll be knee-deep in edits while my brain is screaming about stuff that I should be doing to the other books, and so I’ll probably be doing a lot of gentle gibbering and rocking in corners alongside the actual work.

Straightforward? Pshaw. Who cares about straightforward?

I do feel rather in a spin today, though, all truth being told. I have asked (nay, begged) one of my extremely kind writery-type friends for help, a person who has been through the whole ‘agent edits your book’ scenario before (she managed to survive mostly intact), and she gave me some useful tips. Boiled down, these are:

It’s never as bad as you think – to which I say ‘Don’t tempt fate’;

Everyone needs a lot of help the first time – to which I say ‘There go my dreams of being a middle-aged child prodigy’;

Take your time with the edits, and read them all through at least once before you start changing your MS – to which I say ‘Sounds quite sensible, actually,’ and

Remember that the point of editing is to make the book better– to which I say ‘Yes, I know. When I’m editing other people’s work, I always do it in order to help, and to make their good ideas clearer – but it’s dang hard to remember that when it’s your own work on the chopping block.’

Muuuaahahahahahaaa! Photo Credit: Erindxl via Compfight cc

Muuuaahahahahahaaa!
Photo Credit: Erindxl via Compfight cc

So. Bear with me over the next few days if the blogging schedule goes a bit awry. It’s not that I’ve forgotten you – it’s just that I’ll be sitting in a darkened room singing old Linda Ronstadt songs and wondering where my life went wrong, and contemplating a new and glittering career as a sheep-herder in the steppes.

That’s all.

Nothing to worry about.

And maybe my friend is right, and the edits won’t be as horrendous as I feared, and I’ll be back here in a few days with a bounce in my step.

But just in case, here’s some Linda Ronstadt.

 

**Edit: Before someone jumps in and corrects me, yes I know ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ is an Anna McGarrigle song. I just can’t pass Linda Ronstadt’s version, though. Adieu!**