Hanging On – The Surefire Way to Get Your Editor to Kill You

frustrated

So I’m out here in SoCal at the mo visiting friends/family/going to my future d-i-l’s bridal shower – squee! – and cleaning out our house so we can get it ready to rent out. It’s amazing the amount of detritus you hoard over the years. I think the attic alone could appoint several abodes.

There are the trophies the kids won, the drawings and scratching from early years in school…old baby clothes – including one very stained baby USC sweater…it’s hard to let go. There’s so much I want to keep, but I don’t have room for it all. And where would it all go? It’s not like I’d put them out on display – so is my desire to keep them a matter of really needing them or because they’ve wrapped themselves around my heart, even though they serve no purpose? I mean, the stained glass paper art is ripped to shreds, but I remember my son bringing it home, and I hung it on the fridge until it was replaced by another kid’s attempts at Picasso.

Same goes for the old pictures of my daughter’s softball days…a conglomeration of toothy 8-yr-old girls, wearing their uniforms and freckles – ready for battle. It’s a reminder of younger days, where she taught herself to pitch – and proceeded to either strike girls out with the arm of a heat-seeking missile or bean them hard enough so they had to limp to first base. Our motto: If you’re gonna walk ’em, make ’em limp.

How do I throw this stuff out? It’s fecking hard, I tell you. It’s the same for writing. You write brilliant tomes and fall in love with every single word. You send those loving words off to your editor…where those soulless, heartless harbingers of evil rip the snot out of them by saying, “Um, this doesn’t have anything to do with this scene, or the plot, for that matter.”

WHAT?? Kill. Your. Darlings? Unholy mother of banshees…why don’t we editors just run you through with a javelin while we’re at it? Could it be any more painful? Alas, we know it hurts. It hurts ‘cos you wrote it, so we expect the reply: No No No No…not gonna do it! Can’t do it.

Oh. Yes. You. Will. You will because you want your finished product to be strong and beautiful – and your editor has something you don’t: an unbiased eye. Hanging on won’t serve you or your book. Be willing to let go.

There’s also the pain of letting go of your finished manuscript. It’s a test of wills. Your editor wants to get it off to the printer. You want to tweak, rewrite, ponder, and hang on ’til it’s right. By this time, the moon has threatened to fall from the sky. You can’t agonize anymore about whether it’s perfect because, know what? – you’ll never be convinced it’s perfect. If allowed, you’ll continue to rewrite, re-think, rehash every steenkin’ word until your editor sends out a hit team to prep you for cement shoes.

You can’t hang on forever – you gotta let go. And that’s hard – I get it. Your book will be out there for-ev-er, and you don’t want to cringe four years later because that ONE word should have been “belly jelly” instead of “muck.” But like the dust on all the stuff in the attic, you’re gonna sneeze so much that you need to give it up because there simply isn’t enough Kleenex to continue blowing your nose.

I can’t repair the torn up stained glass picture or go back in time to when my kids were 8 and wore braces and skinned knees. I gotta move on, because I need to live in the now. And if you ever want to see your book on the shelves, you gotta move on, too. Listen to the advice of your editor and throw out stuff that no longer serves your manuscript. Let go of the desire to read, re-read, re-re-read, so your editor doesn’t have to pry it from your cold, dead fingers.

Take comfort that it’s not meant to be easy. If it were, then everyone would be a bestselling author.

Okay, I’ll admit that I found the hub’s old letters he sent me before we got married, and he was working in Saudi. I don’t care what anyone says, those puppies are coming home with me.

4 Responses to Hanging On – The Surefire Way to Get Your Editor to Kill You

  1. authorguy says:

    Depends on the editor.
    My first ‘editor’ tried to get me to do that. Wanted me to lose a scene that was critical to the whole series. I’d made the mistake of assuming my readers would make the same inferences I’d implied. Instead of taking out that critical text I added text that made it clear what that scene was doing. That same ‘editor’ also somehow managed to miss about 15K words of unnecessary text all over the rest of the book, including a 2-page chunk at the beginning of one chapter. I removed all that myself, about 10 years later.
    Point being, not only is the editor not necessarily right, but sometimes the correct answer is to add text, to show why a piece of ‘darling’ text is darling. I have worked with better editors since then, and I’ve yet to have one try to throw out a piece of ‘darling’ text on me.

  2. ericjbaker says:

    I end up hating my manuscripts by the time I’m done flogging their dead, rotting hides. I’ll be glad to hand it to someone.

    Have you ever had an author say, “yeah, but…” about a suggested edit and then change your mind?

  3. Eric: I have discussions all the time with my authors about a recommended edit. I’m hindered by the fact that the only context I have is what’s written on the cyber paper – which makes me unbiased. If I cross something out, I leave a margin comment giving the reason why I crossed it out. I also schedule Skype sessions, so the author and I can go over every single page. It’s usually during those sessions that the author will either offer context to something I crossed out – and then do a rewrite on it to add clarity, or they’ll agree that it doesn’t belong there.

    And sure, I’ve changed my mind a lot, once I understand what the author was trying to say.

    Authorguy: You’re absolutely right. It definitely depends on the editor, which is why it’s vital to know the quality of the books the publisher puts out by reading a few of their books. If you see a pattern of drek, then you know their editing team isn’t as strong as you’d like.

    The takeaway is that I don’t assume I’m right – I’m merely commenting/editing what’s on the page. There have been times when I saw something that I feel ab-so-freakin’-lutely must be edited out, I give my reasons…and I expect the author to do the same. In other words, each of us have to defend our position. If I feel the author’s defense has merit, then we discuss how better to re-write it so that it’s relevant. But yah, there have been times when I simply overruled the author because their defense was “But I really love that scene.” – which ain’t gonna convince me.

  4. authorguy says:

    That’s pretty much what happened with my first editor. She said ‘this stuff has to go’. I said ‘this is critical to x, y, and z’. She said ‘well I don’t see x or y, and acording to your timeline z is in the third book’. That’s when I added the x and y parts so she could see them, and then she stopped complaining. It’s one of the reasons I like editors, they fail to see the stuff I think is obvious.

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