So I wrapped up the novel and sent it to someone else, a fellow writer, to get looked over. This writer is someone that I respect, but also someone with a very different voice and style from mine, so I expect the resulting feedback to be very helpful.
This is not the first book I’ve written, but it’s the first that I’ve managed to edit without getting completely overwhelmed. I credit this mostly to my writing group, but I’ll explain that later.
Getting the novel through the editing process has been a difficult process. As I’ve told people several times over the last month, it’s impossible to tell whether the soup is good when you’re drowning in the soup. The book has been that immersive for me… each time I turn back to it, it sucks me back under, and I’m surrounded by its push and pull.
You have to resist that push and pull, though. You have to clarify things, tidy other things up, smooth out edges and decide which ones to leave rough. Each one of those choices is an intentional act. That takes a kind of confidence that I often lack, and it can be terrifying to think that you know for sure how and where to trim without neutering what’s already on the page.
Here’s the other thing… you’re not editing for you, you’re editing for readers.
Believe me, if I never got this book just right, I would still love it as much as I do now, and the fact of the matter is that editing is a much slower and more painful process than writing is. People think the writing is the hard work, and the writing is actually the part that we love, we writers. I wrote over half of the original manuscript in one ecstatic week while my brain hummed and sang. In contrast it took me a week to edit the first two chapters. So the bulk of the editing work isn’t for you… it’s for the reader.
And you don’t know the reader, and the reader doesn’t know you.
So there’s this gulf you have to cross of cultural context and myth structures that might not be consistent between you and any one of your readers. This means you have to figure out which idiosyncrasies you have to take out to make sure the meaning of your work is accessible, but you have to know what to not take out, because if you take out all of it, the book becomes a pale, flabby, meaningless piece of drivel.
So the hard part is excising enough of yourself from your own work, but not too much.
When I started this book, I knew I wanted it to be mine, to be a little bit different from everything else out there. This is the project that I’ve been in love with, the one that I pined for while my head was broken and I couldn’t even read, much less write for any length of time. And I look back on the process of editing and I think of all the times that I took things out, or even just omitted them, because I was worried that it was too dark, or too political, or that it might alienate readers.
And I think I need to let some of the weird back in.
Not all of it, because man oh man, that would actually hamper its ability to communicate what I wanted it to communicate.
But you know, some of it. Because I respect my prospective readers enough to make them just a little uncomfortable. I think they can handle it.
So this is an important lesson for writers; keep EVERYTHING. Even if you’re not using it in your current project, you never know what will be useful.