Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Hell Formerly Known as Editing

This blog originally appeared on March 17th as a guest blog on Rants & Ramblings, the blog of my agent, Rachelle Gardner. It recounts some of my experiences during the editing process for my first novel, The Sacred Cipher, scheduled for release in July.

It was June 30, 2008 and my wife and I were driving home from the Adirondacks when Rachelle called. “How does it feel to be a published author?”When I stopped dancing around the car – yes, I had parked first – my head was spinning. It still is. But the dreams of fame and fortune, which so quickly sprang to mind that day, have been put on hold. First comes editing.

I signed a contract with Kregel for my first novel, The Sacred Cipher. We’ve been through two rounds of editing with three more to come. The release date has been shuffled from April to July 31 of this year.The first thing I must say is that the people I've worked with at Kregel have been great. They are all professional; holding to high standards; clear and articulate in their counsel, questions and needs. They’ve been compassionate and sensitive in their delivery, open to suggestions or differences of opinion and deferential to the author's vision.No complaints on that side.But the editing process is exhausting and, at times, frightening. Twice I thought this train was headed off the bridge.My editor, Dawn Anderson, presented me with a laundry list of edits, deletions and revisions – some quite extensive. The big issues (extensive character development; character motivation; plot pacing) were too big to tackle at the beginning. They overwhelmed me. So, first, I read through the entire manuscript.Then I went back and started fixing the 'smaller' problems, keeping the big issues in mind and keeping notes of my own thoughts. That helped me make progress while I was still thinking through the major issues.In addition, Dawn asked two perceptive, but alarming, questions about timing – one at the beginning of the book (I wrote that four years ago!) and a second about the conclusion – so substantial, I thought the book was dead. It took four days to find a solution.POV was a nagging, consistent issue, but dealing with the characters was my biggest problem. Each of the main characters needed more depth and development but the great challenge was motivation … why would they do this? Too many times, my first answer was, “I don’t know.”I worked on the revisions at least four days a week for nearly a month. Even with all the revisions ... 98.5% of my editor’s observations or requests were valid … the story is the same, the characters are the same (though deeper) and the plot still moves. I'm okay with it.It helped a lot to hear from Rachelle that significant edits and revisions like this are not unusual. So, I didn't take the requests personally.All that said, editing is a big deal. The revisions were harder work than the writing. At least, that's how it felt. I think I was having selective amnesia. I know there were several very bleak days in the writing, as well. But, in the editing stage, there was more at stake. More downside risk. Much more challenge to be a 'better' writer.As a result, I am physically and emotionally spent. Squeezed out and hung to dry. Brain dead and bug eyed. And tired of talking about this book. (I've done a really good job of marketing to everyone I know ... and they ALL ask!). But the edits keep coming. A freelance editor will be reviewing it for substance, internal editors will do a line edit, then a copy edit.Honestly, I'm numb. There have been so many days of doubt. I think the book is good ... the folks at Kregel are excited about it. And I believe it's better now than ever.But I’m not dancing around the car anymore. Not now. I won't be able to believe this rumor about being a published author until I have one of those 362-page suckers in my hand. This process is just too fragile to take anything for granted.

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