Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wrestling the Black Bear: On Editing and the Editorial Letter

by Margaret Dilloway

A few weeks ago, my agent sent back a longish editorial letter for my new work in progress, which concerns a 12th century samurai woman and two half-Japanese contemporary women.

About a week before he read it, I had a new idea. I e-mailed him asking if I should include an additional samurai-era character. He said go for it, so I added her in.

This resulted in the longest manuscript I've ever written, with four points-of-view. Not only that, a good half of it is historical fiction, which I have never before attempted.

Yep, I jumped into rougher waters than usual, but I managed to swim. Barely, it felt like.

Thus, due to the historical and highly ambitious nature of the book (plus it is now 581 pages!) I was already extra anxious when I sent it to my agent (also, it'll be our first book together, so I really wanted him to love it).

When I received his editorial letter, my first reaction, as it always is when I get an editorial letter, was DESPAIR. I ignored all the good and nice things he said about it and looked at the rest and thought, 'Dear Lord! How am I ever going to do all this?' and stared at his comments for a couple of days.

Then, I actually read the letter more closely. Once my frazzled brain slept on it, I determined it wasn't a)entirely bad and b) how to break it down to do the work.

My husband says I panic too easily when faced with a letter like this. This is true. However, I think despair is definitely a stage you have to work through.

So I've composed some advice to my future self, when I get my next letter and have to wrestle the bear.

  • Accept your despair/anxiety as normal.
  • Let the thing marinate for a few days. Then reread it. It probably won't be as overwhelming.
  • Think about whether or not you agree. Circle the items you agree with, or otherwise make an action plan.
  • Consider doing a few different editing rounds. For example,  one editing round might be to just to add a single aspect, like setting, to each scene. Another editing round could be for dialogue or certain subplots.
  • Check off the things on your master to-do list as you go through and make changes.
  • Be open to the fact that the list might necessitate changes the editor didn't think of.

Another editing trick:
If you hate deleting your ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT scenes that are not necessary to the story, make another file titled CUT SCENES. Put your cut scenes in there. It will make you feel like you're not deleting them, plus you can use them again, or parts of them, if you need to.


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