I'm currently working on yet another edit of my young adult book that managed to eke out an RWA Golden Heart final in 2015. You'd think this baby would be in pretty good shape.
When I entered my novel into that contest, it was hardly a first draft. More like Draft #72.
I think I'm up to about Draft #105.
Or maybe that's just how many whine sessions I've had about having to revise the manuscript in some way, shape, or form.
Didn't I hear how Stephen King only goes through three times? How about Ray Bradbury who wrote the short story from which Fahrenheit 451 came in a single draft? Am I simply destined to be a pen-wielding Sisyphus pushing the bolder of my book up the hill again and again, never quite reaching the final destination before it falls down on me yet again?
Hang in here, because I promise this isn't just my personal bitch session. I do have a point. Three points, in fact.
Editing is necessary to turn out your best book.
As much as I'd love to write a fabulous first draft, send it to a publisher, and have them yank out their big, fat checkbook and write me an advance big enough to send my kid to college, that's really not how this gig works.
It can be shocking to discover how much time you'll spend editing versus writing. But those who dig deep and revise their manuscripts with chainsaws, Ginsu knives, and scalpels — as needed — find the result is well worth the effort.
Every time I make changes and read it again, I get really excited about the result. While I haven't actually counted how many revisions my book has been through, I can confidently state that the first draft was knee-deep cow-patty compared to how it reads now. Frustrating as the process can be a times, I'm convinced that deep-dive editing is a necessary process for turning out the best story I can write.
Editing improves your writing.
This particular book had a lot of issues in early drafts, with me choosing the wrong point of view, starting in the wrong place, and misfiring with the climax.
But after having to edit the book to deal with each of these issues, I'm far less likely to make the same mistakes again. Indeed, the next book in the series — written, edited, but not quite polished — is in way better shape at this point than this one was at a similar point in time.
Having to edit your mistakes or amp up your emotion or strengthen your story structure — or deal with whatever other weakness you have — forces you to improve your writing chops. Then when you write the next book, you have those shiny skills in your toolbox. You'll write to the know-how you've gained, because the process of editing that other book taught you what to do...as well as what not to do.
Editing happens to the best of us.
Whenever I'm frustrated with some aspect of writing, I go check with the experts to see what wisdom they have. Actually, they say that rewriting, revising, editing, and more editing are par for the course.
Take Ernest Hemingway, for example, who rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times. When asked what had stumped him, he answered, "Getting the words right." Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (a genuinely chilling novel), said, "I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers." Truman Capote once remarked, "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."
And more recently, John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, said, "Books are made in revision. For all three of my novels, I have deleted more than 90% of the first draft. And everything that people like about my books emerges in later drafts." You can hear it for yourself here:
I don't know about you, but this makes me feel a little better. Like maybe it's okay for your best writing to come out in Draft #5 or #12 or #67.
And by the time your book goes out to readers, they only know the amazing, kick-butt story you put into their hands.
That's what drives me to keep editing my book until it's the best story I can put out — because I want my novel in the hands of readers. I want them to love my characters, my story, my "baby" as much as I do.
Yep, I'm a bit sick and tired of editing. But when it's all over, I'll beam with pride.
When you're done editing, I'll beam with pride for you. Because your baby's pretty awesome too.
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
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