“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
This morning feels a bit strange. I’m not sitting at my desk right now. I’m not hanging out with my characters, smiling from Ellie’s three-year-old antics or crying along with Sofie as she finds ways to parlay her hurt into hope. I’m not re-reading the same paragraph five different times, searching for any – every – possible place to delete words. I’m not editing. Instead, I slept in until 7:45. I read through my blogroll slowly, listening to the sound of lawn mowers crunching grass blades outside and the heater crinkling on inside (side note: Mother Nature’s apparent decision to skip from summer to winter this week? NOT COOL.). There’s a zillion things on my to-do list for later, but none involve Mine to Love.
Because as of last Friday, I am officially finished the first round of revisions! *insert happy dance here* It was a long time coming – longer than I’d originally planned, to be honest – but in retrospect, it was exactly what the book needed. It needed its major edits to come first. It needed me to devote an entire day to each chapter. It needed its words to be chosen wisely, carefully, judiciously. Though there’s still work to be done before the manuscript is truly finished, I can instinctively tell that it’s stronger today than it was three months ago. Literally, it’s less. Figuratively, it’s more. And isn’t that what writing’s all about?
As I’ve taken the book from 159,329 words (469 pages) to 124,944 words (376 pages), I’ve learned a lot about editing. Each of those 34,385 deleted words has been a reminder…
1. Much like the brainstorming and writing processes differ between projects, so does editing. What works for one manuscript may not necessarily work for another. Sometimes revisions are about adding scenes, sometimes they’re about polishing the scenes already splashed onto the pages, sometimes they’re about tightening the dialogue, sometimes they’re about limiting the exposition, sometimes (okay, in my case, always) they’re about deleting unnecessary words. Always they’re about making the book better. By trimming the manuscript down, we boost the story up.
2. Those phrases I overused in the last project? They’re hardly in this one at all … but have no fear, they’ve been replaced by others. Think it’s possible for any writer to get through an entire first draft without repeating at least a handful of words WAY TOO MUCH? My money’s on no.
3. Sometimes the scenes that affect you the most while writing are also the ones that affect you the most while revising. Sometimes you get just as swept up into your characters’ world, into their emotions, and sometimes you still have to take a deep breath to compose yourself. But other times, it’s a completely different scene that works its way into your soul. It’s the ordinary scene instead of the milestone one. And isn’t that so much like real life? Often the ordinary moments are extraordinary in their own right.
4. What published authors say about every book building upon the last, pushing them to grow and spread their wings? SO TRUE. I could feel it as I was writing the first draft, but at the same time, I was much too close to the story then to have any sense of objectivity. Revising lets me take a step back and approach it with an unbiased eye. What I saw? A book I would’ve been hesitant to write even just a couple years ago. A book that puts my characters through difficult times, times it broke my heart to write about, but a book that tells the story of how they heal and grow. Of how they spread their wings and fly. Of how they honor the past while moving on to the future. When I sat down to write the first word of this book back in January, I was really nervous about tackling it. Ten months later, I am unspeakably grateful that I did. If there’s a story in your head – in your heart – write it. Don’t let fear stop you, because sometimes fear itself is what leads us to something beautiful.
Okay, now it’s your turn: what lessons have you learned while revising? Share a tip or two that I can use when jumping back into edits next week!