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?