Monday, September 15, 2008

the Editing Cycle (a confession)

I'm in Stage 3. The deepest, the darkest of editorial stages.

I wake up in the morning and the pall of editorial doom settles over my eyes before I can even open them all the way. [Fill in here current manuscript I am working on] will never, ever be what I wanted it to be, it's obvious.

In the middle of the night I'll wake up with the shakes about my own mediocrity and inability to improve your manuscript enough. I hate your manuscript and I hate myself for acquiring it (even though I still love you, the author).

It's a bad, bad time.

I wasn't going to blog about this because I thought it was silly, and maybe disheartening, and also that it reflects poorly upon me (no other editors can possibly feel this way!). But then I went out for dinner with an editor at another company the other evening, and we ended up laughing about how similar our editing neuroses were. Apparently, I'm not the only one who suffers the Editing Cycle.

[Warning: the following is an intimate confession of the strange psychologies of an editor's mind, and your editor will not be happy to know I've let out our secret. Also, as is the case with any mental illness, prefectionism must be taken with a grain of salt and perspective.]


The Editing Cycle [gateway into an editor's muddled mind]
Stage I:
[point of acquisition] This manuscript has awesome potential. I can see it. It needs some work, but this book could literally be the best thing that ever happened to literature. Here's my detailed analysis of the changes it needs.

Stage 2: [point of receipt of edited manuscript back from author] This manuscript needs more work than I originally imagined. Also, the author listened to all my revision instructions, but it's not EXACTLY what I had in mind. What, can't s/he read my mind and make the book come out exactly like that?! Yikes. I hope I can get this up to readable in my next round of edits.

Stage 3: [point of receipt of second round of edits from author] Dear Lord. How did I not realize how much work this book needs? I've already done two rounds of edits. There's no way I can salvage this and make it the book I thought it would be in my head. My reputation is at stake; it will clearly flop in stores; I'll be fired and have to start peddaling my used library on street corners in order to buy myself sushi. Dread. Who would have thought at the beginning? Why did I trust my initial instinct? ::weep:: I'll try to clean up the loose threads at least and just send it off to the copy editor. I can't cope with thinking about this anymore.

Stage 4: [point of receipt of glowing pre-publication reviews, kudos from colleagues and friends, and/or laudatory blog posts] Huhn. Is everyone else in the world dumb? Does no one else see the glaring flaws I failed to fix? Or maybe is everyone lying to me to be nice? I mean, Kirkus and PW give pity reviews all the time, right? Hmm, that doesn't sound right. Or am I the delusional one? Is this book actually...good?


You already know I love my authors and my books, and that I'm devastatingly proud of every single one of them. And yet--I swear to high heaven on the illustrious soul of Max Perkins--I go through this same dumb thought process on every single project I work on. Every...single...one. Including the ones with starred PW reviews, excerpts in the New York Times, and selections for major book clubs and awards. Seriously.

It's kind of like cold feet, you could say, because sending something to the copy editor is rather like walking down the aisle. Once you've gone that far, you can't undo something without financial and legal troubles and without to some degree upsetting Church and State.

It's still hard for me to cope with the idea of my opinion on anything being an actual valid one, or that any other "experts" might agree with me about what rocks. After all, my own opinion isn't even good enough for myself!! But shhhh, don't tell anyone else, please. Particularly my beloved authors, who deserve to be spared my neuroses (since I'm sure they have their own to worry about!).

This all rather reminds me of Libba Bray's post on how writing a novel follows the same stages as a love affair. Maybe we all go through it. Is perfectionism a bad thing, though?

32 comments:

Marie said...

Oh, I love this post and am glad you wrote it. I'm about to turn in my edit to my manuscript, and it is interesting to think how my editor might react to what I've done!

Charles Gramlich said...

It does sound a lot like what many writers go through when they've been laboring for long over the same manuscript. I've been there myself, although not with every manuscript.

Natalie Hatch said...

Is this where the dark chocolate and fluffy bunny slippers helps?

Kim Kasch said...

OMG, that was a wonderful post! We - writers - have so many doubts, frustrations and anxieties it's really nice (I know that's not very nice - but it's true) to hear that editors have the same emotions we have.

Mike Lindgren said...

I'm sure you are doing a terrific job and that your authors are lucky to work with you.

Julie Weathers said...

Moonie, it's exactly what the authors go through. I have been tempted to throw my wip in the trash a few times. I ask myself why I ever thought I could write.

I can see the story like a movie in my head, but the words don't come out like I want them to.

It's just part of seeing perfection and that's a good thing.

I'm sure your authors are thrilled to have you, as well they should be.

Whirlochre said...

Horrible, but also strangely comforting, to discover the cliff face leads the whole way round the island.

JES said...

Glad you cited Libba Bray's hilarious falling-in-and-out-of-manuscript-love post; that's exactly what this reminded me of. So happy (well, you know what I mean) to learn that writers aren't the only ones sometimes guilty of hating what they love. :)

You're a strange case, MR. The facts of the matter -- what you tell us of your daily life -- seem to point to your relative youth. But you do have a knack for posting blog entries wise (as they say) beyond your years. I dunno. Maybe you're just a quick study.

Cat Schield said...

Great post. I guess that explains why some editors like to see revisions before they'll buy a new author. Test the waters, see if the author understands what the editor's trying to say and can make the necessary changes. I loved Libby's post. She nailed the process so well.

Oh_bother said...

I had no idea, but boy, is it reassuring to hear.

I'm convinced my writing is heinous on a regular basis, but that's what makes me rewrite over and over.

And over.

I think some perfectionism fuels great work, but too much of it can be paralyzing.

Precie said...

Ah, yes...the "this is never going to turn out right" feeling. I know it well. :)

Linnea said...

Misery loves company so I guess if editors go through the same mental writhings as we authors then we're well matched!

cindy said...

thanks for letting us peer into moonie's deep dark editorial psyche!! it sounds normal--esp since writers go through the exact same thing. i also thought my novel was a steaming dog of poo. quite a few times.

Janet said...

I laughed myself silly over this post. As an unpublished author, I hadn't even got as far in my mind as thinking about editors' emotional reactions. But it all makes perfect sense.

Except the bit about the emotion remaining constant for an entire cycle. I'm on my second draft, and I am sometimes too excited to sleep and on the very next chapter, convinced that I'm deluding myself entirely with my ambitions to write.

Jeanie W said...

I would love to work with an editor who cares as much about the final product as you do. It sounds like you are as emotionally invested in the book as the author is.

When I get stressed about writing, I do what Natalie Hatch suggests. Dark chocolate works wonders. Not sure about bunny slippers, though. They don't sound very tasty.

The Anti-Wife said...

So, editors really are human? Hmmmmm.

ChrisEldin said...

This is one of my favorite posts!
Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes emotions!
:-)

Steph said...

Wow. As a copyeditor I can totally relate to much of what you wrote here!

I just found this blog today. I'm thinking, GOD. Why couldn't I have found this long enough ago to make me feel I have some credibility writing my ebook on how to get published? (Regardless of how long I've been doing this.)

I'm pretty much in love with this site. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your expertise and insight, for your honesty, and for choosing to be cool at the same time as professional. So many industry peeps scare the s*** out of people because they're so... stiff. You, in the other hand, as anonymous as you are, are very...real. Thanks for that!

Steph said...

Whoops. That would be ON the other hand. Nothing like keeping me humble. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

Aha! The feet of clay! Seriously, thanks for reminding all of us that editors are human too.

Chris Redding said...

Amazing to know that editors have neuroses, too.
cmr

Chris Redding said...

Amazing to know that editors have neuroses, too.
cmr

Colorado Writer said...

Hope you can pamper yourself in between slashing things up with the red pen.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Thanks for sharing this with us in the blogosphere! You're the greatest, Moonie! I pray that this manuscript SHINES beyond your limited, up-close view. Keep pressing on, girl.

Heidi said...

I call it manic-depressive revising disorder.

Yesterday I loved it. Today I hate it. Yesterday it was the one that would propel me to the top. Today it's the one that will drag me to the bottom.

It's interesting that editors feel the same way authors do.

And comforting to know you are as invested as we are.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Brilliant post, Moonie! Though I have to say, I'm feeling a bit like this right now - just doing my own edit! I guess we all have similar neuroses working in this business!

Ello said...

Ditto what Whirlie said!

What an amazing confession. So you really do know how we feel!!!

Bernita said...

Guess what!
Writers go through the same sequence. Only it's worse.

intact said...

never forget how awesome you are. xom

Belletristic Bloggette said...

Hello! I'm a newbie. I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. It is great to hear the challenges that editors face so that writers may better understand what they are experiencing through the publishing process.

D.J. Cappella said...

Amazing look into the Editing process. It is actually nice to know that as we attempt to edit our own work to were we see it going that our editors go through the thought process. We should all have a drink and unload after that!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

This post was terrifying! My editors are supposed to be infallible and Popelike.

No, seriously, it was eye-opening. I always imagined my editors grinding their teeth softly when they got my revisions back but never considered what might be going on beyond that!