A Chance to Look Sideways

June 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm (Writing) (, )

As writers, we invest a lot in our manuscripts.

We’re only a little bit kidding when we call them our babies. We invest a lot of time, imagination, and work into finding the right words- and even more challenging, stringing the words into the right order. We fret over the characters like they really are our children, worrying every step of their progress, putting them through unimaginable pains and torments in the name of story. We weave the setting out of whole cloth and we dance our children through their journey like marionettes. We throw ourselves completely into this alternate reality, losing ourselves for hours at a time, and even when we withdraw back into the mundane world, our constructs linger within our minds, almost obsessively at points.

This can be a wonderful thing, but it also presents problems- well, not problems, let’s call them difficulties- down the road, mainly when it comes time for edits.

Edits are this amazing opportunity to take a sideways look at things, to discover the ‘why’ behind all the glorious accidents that happen during drafting. The thing is, writers very rarely have the ability to step back from their manuscripts enough to do the thorough editing that needs to be done.

I know I can’t.

We’re too invested in what we’ve created, so the idea of cutting or changing things would be like putting one of our children into plastic surgery. All of the flaws and problems and inconsistencies get glossed over as adorable and charming. We read through the manuscript and our brains just skip over all the things that we would notice in someone else’s.

If we’re lucky, and if we’re a little thick-skinned and pragmatic, we find someone who does have the necessary distance, someone who can go through it with a critical eye and- best of all- a passion to make your manuscript the best it can possibly be.

Would now be a good time to say that I have an amazing editor?

Going through all the notes, the comments, the questions forces me to look at every line- seriously, every line– and evaluate exactly what it does. I can’t gloss over something or pretend it doesn’t exist- every note needs to be thought about, addressed. And I love it. I may be one of the only people in the world who loves doing edits because of that sideways look at things.

It goes back to high school English classes. Teachers would tell us to analyze “what the author meant to do” and I hated it HATED IT because I pretty much figured English teachers on the whole were buying into a load of bull. (No offense, English teachers). The author meant to- no, no, the author just wrote the frickin sentence. The fact that it makes a vague allusion to something completely unconnected to the story that may or may not actually reinforce any of the themes is probably just an accident. As a reader I might have been willing to give into the theory, but as a writer? I didn’t believe it for a minute.

And working through my manuscript line by line, I’m still not sure I believe it.

What it did do was make me recognize all the accidents layered through the pages. Accidents I love, yes, but accidents nonetheless. Allusions I hadn’t realized I’d included, words that made unexpected parallels and resonances through the chapters.

Most of that is due to Andrew’s attention to detail. He notices things that I’ve become so used to reading that it doesn’t even occur to me. He questions even the small things, but addressing them makes such a better book. I’m getting to see entirely new sides of my characters, getting to know so much more about them, and it’s not because of anything I’m doing. It’s because of the questions Andrew asks, the challenges he makes.

It can be terrifying to give your story to someone else, to put it out there in the cold, hard world for someone to pick apart, but don’t be afraid.

Take a deep breath.

And prepare yourself for that sideways look, where your manuscript comes alive in totally new ways.

Until next time~

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