Take a Moment to Appreciate Your Work Before You Tear It Down Again
Editing Breaks Will Make You a Stronger Writer
After I got comments on my last back from my editor, I wanted to toss my manuscript into the trash. She proposed to chop out whole stories that I’d spent months tweaking, and thought I needed to flesh out a whole new section that I’d been avoiding, and had hoped she wouldn’t miss. My manuscript, which was draft number 11, needed a lot more work than I had realized, and I felt hopeless when faced with the task of implementing her suggestions.
After I got my moping out of the way, I decided to implement her suggestions, no matter how much I disagreed with them. First, I created a whole new document, which I didn’t even number sequentially to my other drafts. This was “Draft MW edit” and it was the version of the story my editor recommended. I couldn’t even see it as my book. The first round of cuts turned a 70,000-word draft into a 38,000-word draft. I was sort of heartbroken by all the work I said goodbye to.
My next move was to start filling in the blanks that my cuts left behind. I didn’t rewrite those sections that were gone. Instead, I sat with the words that were left behind and asked myself what else was there to say about each event. What was the feeling inside the story? What was the purpose or repercussion of the story? Was there any reflection or learning to be shared? I really slowed myself down. The word count started to climb and I was feeling inspired again.
I was almost ready to call the manuscript Draft 12. I wanted to own it and be proud of it. The manuscript still didn’t seem ready yet. On a whim, I bought Save The Cat! Writes a Novel, and mapped my book onto the categories described in that book. Suddenly, new gaps appeared. I was missing a theme, a plan, a team, a surprise, and a new plan. You don’t need to know what all those terms mean to understand that the story was lacking a real engine that pushed the reader forward. I started to fill those gaps, writing a whole new final third to the book.
By that point, it had been five months since the editor gave me her ideas. I read through this new draft one more time, pushing through a long night. Near the end, I wrote “I think this is a pretty good book” on the back of page 146, and sat with that feeling through the last chapter. I went to bed around 1:00 am, letting myself believe for a moment that I had created something worthwhile.
A few days later, I sent Draft 12 back to the editor. I have a feeling she’s going to eviscerate it again. I can live with that. My book went from being okay to pretty good, and maybe next time, it’ll go from pretty good to really good. Every draft is a complete effort, a realization that creating something that is Okay take hard work, and then more hard work to turn it into something good, better, best.
I’ve been working on this book for three years and it has become something very different than what I set out to write. It’s a better book, I’m a better writer. I am grateful to my former self for doing so much hard work, and I hope I’ve done enough work that it’s easier for future me to finish with a bang.