Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another word on self editing . . .

By Julie Wright

A lot of discussion takes place about the self editing process when you’re with writers. I am here to confess that for my first two novels, I believed it was the editor’s job to edit me (isn’t that why they call them editors??). So I wrote two books, turned them in and voila they were published (okay, it wasn’t voila, but let’s pretend for a moment).

The second book was a complete first draft. I ran a spell check after typing it and sent it off. The editor’s published it without asking me to change a thing.

Of course, I assumed this happened because I was brilliant. Brilliant people don’t need to have their material edited. But in reality, I was with a newer publisher. They were in the process of finding themselves and decided to take me along for the ride.

As much fun as it would be to say, “Shame on them!” I have to say, “Shame on me.” (only without the exclamation point, why would I want to shout at myself?). I hadn’t done my homework when I went to find my fame and glory in publication. I hadn’t looked around, read any books, attended any conferences, and I didn’t know any writers.

So when my third book came along and I turned in a rough draft again, I was horrified to have it rejected. How could they reject me? I was brilliant; didn’t they know that?
I know some who say, “well you got published so obviously you did it right the first time.”

Well, I thought so. Remember, I thought I was brilliant.

I started out this whole writing career with the impression that the writer comes up with the idea, and the editor polished it. I thought that the editor would be like my writing teachers in college who gave me clues on how to tighten a story or how to rearrange a poem to make it flow better. And a hundred years ago that may have been the case. It isn’t the case any more. Most publishing houses have been through our wringer economy and have downsized and where they may have had a team of editors they now only have a handful in some cases they may only have one. I was looking for a teacher type mentor. My publisher was looking for a real writer. Sadly, they did not find one in me. I stand before you now humbled by my foolish imaginations.

And thus began my real education as an author. Brilliant authors are people who write good books, and then cut them, and shape them until they bleed fountains of red ink.

I learned to self edit. I learned to send manuscripts off to readers to rip apart before I ever considered sending them to a publisher to put in print. And then I learned to self edit some more. I read a few books on the self editing process (I strongly suggest SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King. HarperPerennial, 1994.)

I can’t teach a whole class on self editing here, but I wanted to bring it to your attention as something you need to be doing. When people tell me they bought one of my first books, I cringe and have to bite my tongue to keep from asking if they want a refund. People generally like the books, but I, alone, know they are shadows compared to what they could be if only someone had told me.


Julie Wright said...

I am insane. This is just a note to tell everyone that my post was supposed to be yesterday and I am a toad. Forgive me all non toad people

Heather B. Moore said...

Your post reminded me that I am SOOOO glad the first book I wrote wasn't published, and neither was the second. The third novel I wrote was the one that was eventually published. But those first published novels can be scary. Full of first-timer mistakes :)

Janice LeFevre said...

Thanks for baring your soul and for the book recommendation!