Whether writing short fiction or a novel length work, a new creative writing project can present a minefield of hurdles from initial blank page paranoia through chapter structuring terror until finally a satisfactory conclusion is reached and I type those ever-blessed words: The End (or ###.)
And then the real fun begins. Copy editing.
It’s never easy handing my brand-new baby over to a professional editor, even when I’d trust that editor with my soul. The new story is still so fresh, so delicate there’s a fear that if I jigger it too much, shift too many pieces, I may lose the vital essence that brought the story to vibrant life. I’m sure there are writers out there who are so knowledgeable about the craft of writing that they can grammatically dissect their stories into bits and then fit the tiny bits back together without a bobble, but I’m not one of them. When my story is as complete and polished as I can make it, I’m terrified that if I edit it too much it will end up looking like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, all patched up paragraphs with thick obvious sutures, a shaky house of cards that may come tumbling down with one harsh puff or worse: that I may change something vital that I can’t fix.
There’s a definite left brain/right brain thing going on with mystery writers, and I think it’s the difference between imagining whole new worlds and new characters (right-brain) versus developing plot points, twists, and logical conclusions (left-brain). This difference may explain why some writers are gifted “pantsers” (e.g., writing by the seat of your pants) versus gifted plotters (e.g., following a step-by-step story outline.)
I’ve decided that editors are neither one of these two types. They are an entirely separate and alien species. These folks take copy editing to another, higher level. They spot story flaws from outer space, from Mars. I also know that when an editor agrees to review my work that I need to throttle my fragile ego, calmly close my eyes, listen to their advice with an open ear and step off into the void, trusting that in the end all will be well and that they fundamentally do come in peace.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing professional editor. She gave me exactly one hour via a Zoom call to review three hurdles she identified in my story while at the same time offering such excellent fixes that I was in complete agreement with her from the start of our over caffeinated conversation. One of her suggestions was even so good, so much better than what I had written that I felt a twinge of professional jealousy that I hadn’t come up with it on my own. My only real difficulty was in accepting that my “final version” was really and truly final and that I couldn’t make any additional last-minute tweaking edits after I sent the “final version” off, probably some form of separation anxiety.
To be fair, any emails that I send out that start with “But, wait…” should be ignored.
In podcasts and at conferences you repeatedly hear that working with a professional editor is about developing a long-term relationship, that it’s never about one single book, that editors are looking for publishing career partners. What has your editorial experience been like?