Ownership

IEditing Self Publish Indie Published Book have great appreciation for the editing process. My wife, Sheila, is an editor — a very good one — and I have benefited from her input on just about everything I’ve written during the past seventeen years. Coming from a software background, I liken editing to quality assurance — a critical step that turns a raw piece of work into a product worth releasing. I have written in this blog about the positive impact editors have had on my writing, and I could not stress strongly enough to any aspiring writer the value of hiring — and listening to — a professional editor.

Like anything positive, the editing process has a downside. For my forthcoming novel, Goodnight Sunshine, I had the benefit — and the challenge — of working with two different editors. Sheila, upon reading my first draft, provided some broad feedback — which sent me back into the coffee shops to create a second draft. She then completed a thorough edit of draft two, focusing on logic, believability, style and language. Her detailed feedback was extremely helpful, but her overall message was a bit disheartening: whereas my first draft was perhaps too raw, my second draft had been watered down — too cautious. (That is my interpretation of her feedback, not a direct quote.)

I made a few adjustments to draft two, but left the big stuff alone for the time being. I had always intended to use a second editor, knowing that Sheila was too close to me — and to many of the anecdotes that fuelled my story — to see things through a completely objective lens. Enter Richard … a very experienced editor and writing coach who looked at Goodnight Sunshine in a completely new way.  Richard and I engaged in a passionate dialogue about story structure and character development … about removing the “scaffolding” that I had built to develop my story (and in many cases left in place) … about writing in general … and about life. I am very thankful for the lessons I learned from Richard, and consider myself a better writer for the time I spent with him.

Now finished a third complete draft, I handed my manuscript back to Sheila — who found more errors and logical glitches than I would have imagined possible. I had taken the chainsaw that Richard gave me — reducing my word count from over 110,000 to well under 80,000 — and trimmed my story like a logger would prune a fruit tree. Sheila worked hard to bandage the raw wounds I had created, and tried her best to forget parts that had been cut (so that she could recognize gaps in logic or story development). But it was a tall order, and I had become hardened by the pruning process. My book looked more like a screenplay than a novel — I had, after all, told Richard that we intended to turn Goodnight Sunshine into a movie — so I brushed off Sheila’s comments that she wished I had retained certain parts of my previous work. Now that I was becoming practiced in the art of detachment, I felt that my wife had been afflicted by the same sense of attachment that I had previously felt toward my words — toward my characters, my descriptive prose, my dialogue.

Off to the beta readers I went, both proud and vulnerable as I sent electronic copies of Goodnight Sunshine to my parents, siblings, nieces, friends … and a few people who did not know much about me, and would thus  provide a more objective view of my work. Then I waited … and waited some more … nothing. Finally, one review trickled in from a dear friend — a lovingly worded, lukewarm response that said, in so many words, that I had written a promising book … that needed more work. A second review came in … and then a third. Over a matter of months, a dozen people provided feedback — ranging from diplomatically worded congratulations (on the grand task of completing a novel) to a couple of almost rave reviews. The common message from just about everyone who read the book was: they wanted more. More character development. More introspection. More descriptive prose. A number of people even told me, in no uncertain terms, that my novel had been “over-edited”.

Over the past year, through a back-and-forth process with Sheila, I have gradually added almost 10,000 new words — even while deleting chunks of existing text — and painstakingly reviewed every passage of the book to make sure I am saying exactly what I want to say. In basic terms, I have taken ownership of my novel. What had began as a story that was entirely of my own telling — albeit a bit too raw and convoluted — had become a group effort that I didn’t entirely recognize as my own work. Through feedback from two editors and a dozen readers, not to mention my own research into the writing process, I had lost my story … and by extension my confidence as a writer. More importantly, I had sanded the edge off my passion for writing. The lack of posts on this blog is symptomatic of the “writer’s identity crisis” that I have gone through.

I am now happy to say that I feel a great deal of ownership over Goodnight Sunshine. I didn’t set out to be Hemingway, and I don’t expect praise to rain down upon me when I release my first novel into the wild. But I am an author — a novelist — and through the learning curve that I have experienced over the past three years I believe I am a far better writer than when I started this journey.

I am thankful to Richard for the lessons he taught me, and ever more appreciative of the ways in which Sheila continues to help me develop as a writer. I feel a renewed sense of confidence, and a renewed passion for letting the words flow out of me again. I recognize Goodnight Sunshine for what it is — a debut novel and a tremendous learning experience. Now that it is nearing publication, I can begin to think about my next novel … and inject some much-needed life into this blog.


* Edited text image provided by Nic McPhee under Creative Commons license

One thought on “Ownership

  1. Couldn’t seem to access the Comments section on your blog, but do want to tell you how much I enjoyed reading it. And shall await the debut of Book #1 of many! Hope all is well with you guys. And I was sorry to hear you lost your Uncle. That sucks. Love Marg

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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