I am not ashamed to admit that I was more than a little worried about the edits. When I published my first short story many long years ago, the excitement I felt about seeing my story in print turned to bitter disappointment when I discovered that entire passages, not written by me, had been added. It wasn't so much that someone had monkeyed with perfection because even then I knew that editors edit. No. What upset me and threw me into a funk was the fact that the new material was not in the voice of the narrator nor in keeping with the pacing of the story.
Now, you may say that that was a tight-assed way to look at things, and that I should have just been happy to cash the really big check I got for the story,. But for me it wasn't about the money -- never has been, never will be. For me, it's all about telling a story I love, in a voice that has its own rhythm and nuance. If an editor feels that s/he just has to add in something new, so be it. But for God's sake, at least do it in the voice I created.
So, based on that experience, and on the fact that my contract with Solstice is very clear about who has the final word on edits -- and it's not me, I was bracing myself for the first round of edits. The truth is, I knew there were passages in DEAR HEART that needed work, but I was praying to God that I wouldn't find myself confronted with a sea of red ink or the heartbreaking sight of new language in an alien voice.
The edits hit at 7:31 PM on Tuesday, April 3rd. I was playing Wood Puzzle on my iPhone while watching TV with my husband when I got the ping. I jumped up from the sofa and flew to my laptop and started reading the file within seconds. And when I was finished perusing the edits, I was left with two truths: my editor, Tracy, was unbelievably sensitive and non-judgmental, and I was an ignoramous when it came to the use of grammatically-correct punctuation.
Although there were several sentences that Tracy felt were too long, and one passage that she found borderline pornographic, 99% of her edits had to do with missing commas, the use of semi-colons instead of dashes, and downsizing the words I had capitalized because I thought that was what I was supposed to do with them. I should have been happy, right? And I was, until I came upon the first set of new commas that I felt changed the rhythm of my prose. That's when I had to get real.
Ironically, except for one phrase I couldn't bear to part with because it tied into one of the underlying themes of the book, I readily accepted all of Tracy's substantive edits. The sentences she said were too long, were too long. And the borderline passage Tracy cited was totally without subtlety, did nothing to advance the story and made me cringe with embarrassment when I went back and re-read it. Although Tracy kindly gave me the option to rework it, I didn't even try, I just hit the delete button and moved on, mentally thanking Tracy for her good sense. None of the things that should have thrown me did. Tracy was right about all of them. It was those damned new commas that almost did me in.
Somehow I had sense enough to take a breath and evaluate my desire to defend my style against Tracy's far superior knowledge of how audiences respond to the written word. True, there are writers who can get away with abandoning form for function, but I had to admit that I am not yet one of them. And, I asked myself, if I had wanted to preserve my right to eschew commas, why had I not self-published? The answer was clear and had been from the moment I decided to query publishers. I wanted the infrastructure and the expert guidance that came with an established publisher. When I approached the edits with that mindset, I found it easy to accept all but a few of the punctuation changes. Yes, I mourned the exclusion of my beloved dashes, and I didn't always understand why some of my colons were replaced with semi-colons, but I was also smart enough to know that I don't know everything.
As it turned out, there were three rounds of edits, and I found the process exhilarating and instructive, and not at all the traumatic experience I feared it would be. And that's thanks to Tracy, who was incredibly patient and diplomatic. My guess is that most editors are. As writers, we may create the characters and the world they live in, but only our dogs and husbands will ever meet them if we refuse to bend to the requirements of our publishers. I'm making this point because I've come to understand that some writers berate their editor or go over their head, and to them I say you are a fool with a capital F. Not only because it's just plain stupid to bite the hand that feeds you, but also because you cannot grow as a writer if you are not open to new ways of thinking.
Yes, Friends, there was a time I would have died on Semi-colon Hill rather than surrender the self-righteous high ground. Thank God those days are behind me, and thank God for Tracy, without whom you'd all be reading some purple prose when DEAR HEART comes out, and never be able to look me in the eye again!
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