Editing is weird.
I have, as some of you know, been in the process of getting “Black Dogs” my Obligatory Fantasy Novel whipped into shape, as Sofawolf is planning on publishing it. The first major chunk of edits has been done, and we’re in the process of the second round of minor edits to fix whatever stuff the major edits threw out of whack (and fix my occasionally eclectic approach to punctuation and spelling. My spelling of various words hops the Atlantic every other paragraph, I fear.)
As you can see by the length of this post, editing–not my strong suit.
Mostly what this has taught me is that editing is unbelievably valuable, because it’s a far better story for the edits. I have heard that there are people who think editors are monsters with hatchets carving up their beloved prose, but then again, I’ve also heard of cargo cults. It’s definitely better now. On the other hand, the story is at least two or three years old, and I hadn’t touched it, or thought about it much, in that time, so there was a distinct emotional distance that made it easier.
Possibly the time thing factored into the other thing. And here and now, I must officially eat crow.
There was a time, long long ago, when a young and foolish Ursula thought that it was ridiculous that an author couldn’t hold a whole book in their head, and didn’t know exactly how the story interlocked, and if they changed something at point A, would not immediately realize how it would have to change point B. Continuity problems with editing seemed like utter madness. Didn’t you KNOW the story? Hadn’t you written it? Was it not engraved ‘pon your heart and soul in letters of engraving acid and liquid fire?
I was young, and stupid, and had a memory like a steel trap. Now I am old(er) and mildly foolish and have a memory like used cheesecloth.
Because holy crapamoly, man.
Editing was bizarre. There were chunks to be edited. And very rapidly, my story ceased to become a coherent narrative in my head. It went from a fast-flowing river to a series of switchbacks. When I was writing, if I dropped a body in the river, I could fish it out downstream. If I dropped a body while editing, it stayed where it was dropped, and then I’d get to the next switchback and wonder vaguely what that smell was. (Okay, the metaphor is shaky, but it’s hard to explain any better.) The coherency of the narrative vanished from my head completely. I was staggering through my book with a roadmap provided by my editor (and thank god for the map!) and it’s a good thing he was a basically decent man, because he could have told me to alter the scene where Sadrao and Lyra meet the alien mothership, and I’d have gone paging through looking for it and panicked when it wasn’t there. Oh god! Had I cut the vital alien mothership scene? But that was the lynchpin of that plot! The one with the alien resistance and the fetus with the forked tongue! What was I going to DOOOO!?
…wait a minute, that was “V.” I didn’t write that.
But that was sort of it–I couldn’t remember what I’d written! I mean, I could recognize it when it was there, (mostly, some bits are still a surprise) but I couldn’t remember what I’d changed, or when it got changed, or if it got changed. The ghosts of old drafts came rattling chains around my keyboard. And I’d written it so long and knew it so intimately that I couldn’t just sit down and read it and hope to actually see what was and wasn’t there any more. Like a novel-length optical illusion, my brain would fill stuff in that wasn’t there, and I’d be seeing a 3-D pony invisible to everybody else.
I can see why people get scared or frustrated by editing, because it’s such a jumble. I limped from scene to scene, and changed things, and some of the things involved pretty big gashes coming out, and some of them involved very large gashes going in, and by the end, I could barely imagine that it made sense any more. It was switchback to switchback, and believe me, it was all uphill. And there was a deadline! I had to keep going!
This also made me realize that I could never in ten million years be an editor. Mine were kind, and very gentle, and never said anything like “This bit sucks donkeys.” They made suggestions, rather than demands, and their suggestions were very good, and occasionally they said “You can argue with these, you know! You don’t have to accept them all!” I couldn’t do that. Even if I could keep a book in my head that well (and it’s probably easier when not troubled by a thousand past drafts) I couldn’t be that tactful. The editor of specifics (rather than broad plot outlines) asked, with the air of a man handling a live rattlesnake, whether I had carefully labored over each mark, and would I be offended if they altered the placement of some commas? This blew my mind a bit, even as I assured him that I was not married to my commas. My punctuation and I have an open relationship. I can even cruise the strip and pick up semicolons. I mean, sure, the placement of one comma may have altered the New Testament, but how often does THAT happen? Who could get worked up over commas?
And then I stop and think about the internet, and humans, which writers usually are, and I know immediately. And this is punctuation, not dialogue or description or plot, not characterization or anything. And I think “Sweet jesus, I could never be an editor.”
But anyway, the book. I am desperately proud of it, and deeply embarassed by it, and I am assured by my friend Deb, (better known as “Sabrina Jeffries,” bestselling romance writer, and who can reduce me to tears of hysteria by mentioning the word “leprosy.”) that you always feel that way about your older novels. She also tells me that you write the next novel to try and fix all the things you did so horribly wrong in the first one. And god, I can see that. This book isn’t nearly funny enough. There’s not a single weird fruit ANYWHERE.
And some day, I’ll fix that. Some day…a long way off… For now, if you’re interested in the book, just keep your eyes peeled, and more information will be forthcoming here as we know it.