on being edited (and what I learned)

courtneysome girls are (your mom), writing

I think I’ll dive into an entry about the editorial process for Some Girls Are while it’s still fresh in mind. I have this problem when it comes to the books I’ve written. If I don’t make note somewhere about how hard they were to write–because they’re all hard to write–I would never believe they gave me any problems at all. The euphoria of finishing acts like a pleasant amnesia ray, which I’m assuming is a kind of mental suit of armor designed to keep me writing books.

I had a very complicated relationship with Some Girls Are prior to its acquisition. Maybe one day, when it’s less painful, I’ll talk in-depth about the drafting process. Suffice to say, if me and my book were characters on a TV show, we’d say scathingly hateful things to each other while the audience kept secretly hoping we’d kiss and fall in love and then in the season finale we WOULD (spoiler: with the help of my amazing, fierce, patient, rockstar agent, WE DID).

I started Some Girls in August 2007. It sold in August 2008 to the same fantastic editor I worked with on Cracked Up to Be. When it sold, the book was in a pretty rough, early state. I’d gasped out the last half of the novel while grieving the death of someone very close to me, at which point I just wanted the thing to be done. And done it was–but it was far from perfect.

The nicest thing about knowing you have a rough book is the fact that it needs major revisions does not come as this huge unwelcome surprise. I was eager for my editor’s thoughts because she has this incredible way of looking at words and making them better. One of the first things we discussed was our respective visions for the book. I told her what I’d aimed for and the overall impression I wanted to leave with readers when they hit the last page. I also told her I was pretty confident the whole second half was going to have to go. This was a great conversation for a variety of reasons; it prepared me for the overall feel of the impending revision letter and gave me something to think about while I waited for it.

At the end of October, I got my first editorial letter. It was 11 pages and contained broadstroke suggestions, questions, thoughts and concerns. Looking back at it, it’s mostly focused on characterization. I needed to reinforce and establish my character’s motivations, relatability and carve out a clear character arc for my MC. The letter also included page-by-page highlights that supported my editor’s overall questions and concerns about the manuscript. It was a great letter.

I was excited about this round and yes, very overwhelmed by it. Most of the issues centered around–no surprise–the second half of the book. I had established motivations etc., but the follow-through was a little weak. During this time I fondly refer to as The Period I Did Not Brush My Hair or Change Into Clothes That Weren’t PJs While Mainlining Coffee, I tore up my novel and did some extensive, extensive replotting. This was a big learning experience for me; I usually wait for the “A-ha!” moment to come to me and then I write it. Now I had to write to the “A-ha!” moment. Or, as was my case, moments.

Getting to those moments involved many brainstorming sessions with my editor, agent and this clawesome girl named Lori. Ideas would be bounced, considered, trashed and the ones that had the most possibility needed to be implemented to see if they could really work. I would write out many failed ideas just to get a KERNEL of something that would lead me to the next idea, watch IT fall apart but leave me with ANOTHER kernel, repeat this process times a million. Watching your words collapse in on themselves in a seemingly endless loop was at times VERY frustrating, but eventually all those kernels turned into one big “A-ha!” moment which would make the second part of the book come together and THAT was the sweetest feeling in the world. It took a while to get to that point, though. I wrote through November, December, January and then, at the end of January….

MY LAPTOP DIED.

I lost work. Not a lot–but when you’re fighting every word on the page–well. I vividly remember weeping over my dead laptop and shaking it, like that would make it come alive whilst shrieking at the sky (remember that Twitter? Good times, good times!) and then getting very panicky with the people at Future Shop the next day when they didn’t have the laptop model I wanted even though it said they did on their website until they directed me to Best Buy where I found it for more $$ and they wouldn’t price match because apparently Best Buy owns Future Shop or vice versa grrr lucky for them I love my new Toshiba which I accidentally dropped earlier this week and it was like IS THAT ALL YOU GOT BIATCH BECAUSE I COULD GO AGAIN. GOD I LOVE IT.

Uhm. Anyway.

After that happened, I continued working in a slightly more manic and traumatized fashion and then I finished the draft. At the end of each round of revision, I like to print off the entire manuscript and go through it with a red pen. So I did that, and sent it into my editor in mid-February. Eight days later, I received my second editorial letter. As my editor went through it with me on the phone, I started laughing and said, “Now that the second half is good, I have to rewrite the whole first half!”

Yep.

Turns out you can’t really rewrite the second half of your book without affecting the first. My second editorial letter was seven pages long and the overall focus of it was structure. It was time to give the novel three distinct acts. Initially, we thought this would involve overhauling the first 127 pages, leaving the rest mildly unscathed, but you can’t tear up the first half of the book without affecting the second, natch! What ended up happening was I realized some parts in the second half would better serve the beginning and middle, while others could stay where they were. This helped me with the pacing. I did a lot of transplanting and wrote new improved material into the holes I’d left behind and by the time I was done–

There was a book.

It was alive! The story had asserted itself! But the story still needed work. I sent this book off to my editor at the end of March, anticipating that the next round would involve a complete manuscript overhaul. I was right.

I got my third editorial letter at the beginning of April. This letter was 17 pages long and its focus was clarifying and simplifying the story. All the rewrites and transplanting from the first two rounds left a lot of threads and unnecessary words. Can I just say, I LOVED this round? It was about reinforcing a story that was already there (hello light at the end of the tunnel! You are bright and beautiful!), and some of the changes involved in doing so were minor. Quite a few were major.

I clarified and simplified on several levels. Off the top of my head: I deleted about 12 pages that added nothing to the story to kick up the pace. I removed and modified various character’s backstories, which had the end result of simplifying a timeline and clarifying two separate character’s motivations and simplifying their relationship with each other (that whole sentence needs an editor, doesn’t it?). I axed an extraneous location and invented a new one which did wonders for one particular scene that is my favourite in the book. I brought a character back from the dead to bring out the best in another.

Expanding a minor–but important–character’s role at my editor’s suggestion turned the whole book on its head in an INCREDIBLE way. It ended up bringing the editorial process full circle–Some Girls Are had become the book I wanted it to be when my editor and I discussed our visions for the book all those months back (and that is just one of many reasons why my editor is a genius).

And that totally gave me chills. It still does!

So yes, I loved that round, despite an epiphany I had at the printing stage that led me to rewrite 30 pages three days before it had to be sent in (Dear Lori–I heart you).

On May 4th, I sent it in. On May 11th–still with me?–I got my fourth editorial letter, and while round three was my favourite round, this was my favourite letter. It was only five pages and its focus was on polishing the rough edges, which involved some minor changes as well as rewriting and fleshing out a couple of scenes. In a lot of ways, this letter reminded me of the one I got for Cracked Up to Be. I sent in the final draft on Wednesday, and today I got an email letting me know that Some Girls Are would be put into production. This means even that while copy-edits and first pass pages loom on the horizon, it is a done book.

And I love it. I’m very, very proud of it and what it has become. I can’t wait for you to read it.

I am indebted to my editor and agent for its growth (thank you Sara and Amy!).

… And here we are!

Now, I don’t know if I’ve offered any truly helpful insights on the revision/editorial process by sharing mine. Each book is a learning experience and this particular book taught me a lot. If I could base any final words of advice off of my own experience, it would actually echo what I wrote in my guestblog at The Swivet about building a working relationship with your editor.

The possibility of words are ENDLESS. If you write, you know this. There can be many different paths to the same resolution and I look at the revision process as an exploration of those paths. It’s all about finding the best one. I think it helps to be committed to your novel in a way that means you AREN’T afraid to change it, to break it down and rebuild. Be in constant communication with the words you’re writing. As we all know, communication is the key to any healthy and successful relationship.

And, of course, to be a good communicator, you have to be a good listener. As Alan Rickman once said, an actor’s response (but this is definitely applicable to writers) is defined by the “intensity and accuracy of their listening.” Not to get all ~cheesy~, but if you listen to your words, they’ll listen back. It can be very challenging, but the end result can be thrilling, surprising and always rewarding.

So, if you’re about to embark on the revision/editorial process, MAY THE SPARKLES BE WITH YOU, and for your consideration, please don’t forget to:

  • Be open to change
  • Communicate
  • LISTEN
  • Breathe


  • Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to crack open some celebratory tostitos and salsa BECAUSE MY BOOK IS DONE.






    OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THESE ARE THE SWEETEST TOSTITOS AND SALSA I HAVE EVER EATED.