Last night I turned in my book to my editor, Kate, over at Candlemark & Gleam. This is a first for me. You know, editing a novel that will actually get into the hands of readers. I’ve spent lots of time editing my own books, and I generally enjoy the process quite a lot. I know many writers find it tedious and awful. And it can be, absolutely. But I have a good feeling about this draft; the second I sent it off to Kate, I missed it.
As I saved the file, I thought of the last two years. In late 2008, I completed the first draft of Pilgrim of the Sky; it was somewhere around 65,000 words. It grew from a flash of an idea: a female protagonist getting sucked into a Neo-Victorian/steampunk world that’s a near mirror to her own. Now, in 2011, that one idea is a 93,000 novel. A real novel. And it encompasses so much more than steampunk now; it really doesn’t even fit into a genre. Speculative, sure. But it’s got elements of fantasy, the Gothic, romance, and some heavy mythology and philosophy. It’s layered, like a painting, which makes sense since Maddie, the main character, is an art historian. Her eye is tuned to read into things, and so the book–told in a very close third person–reflects that.
But the book itself has undergone a journey, and most of it has been through editing. I submitted the novel in 2009 to another small press, and it was rejected on some rather curious reasoning. You can read the post I wrote, “Novelfail: Facing rejection with grace, or learning to” if you want more of the story. At the time it really did feel like the end of the world. I was furious at being rejected for such a stupid reason. Yet now, thinking on it, I am so glad the book was rejected. Sure, at the time it was a good 80K of a book. I’d beefed it up since its first draft, and done a significant amount of editing. But it wasn’t there yet. And thankfully I’ve had a brilliant editor help me get it to where it needs to be.
And that’s the thing. Editing isn’t just about dialogue and grammar and pacing. Yes, those are all important things. But editing gives you a chance to dig deeper, to find the themes that you might have missed the first time, that bring the book from good to truly complete.
The editing process didn’t just help me fix dialogue and tighten up the plot. It revealed a better story. This last edit was no simple run-through. It took a ton more research, and an editor who had the ability to, on one hand understand the book, and on the other challenge me to make it better. There are elements in the current draft now that would never have been there if Kate hadn’t made me sit back down with the draft and consider a few things. Of course I went a little deeper than she probably expected, but it’s only because I found so much room for improvement, so many places to make broader or more delicate strokes.
And most importantly, in this almost final iteration, my main character is someone I’d actually like to take out to coffee. The first draft, Maddie was so acerbic. She was crass and had a foul mouth, and as a result wasn’t a terribly compelling heroine. But that changed in the course of edits. She became softer in some instances and stronger in others. And most importantly, I dedicated a whole new section of the book to her truly discovering her own power. Before, she was passive; now she’s active.
Anyway, that’s a long rambly way to say: pay attention to edits. Take the time. Work at it. Use your editing time to push your novel to its limits, to stretch it far beyond your initial imagination. There are bits of magic hidden that will only out with work. The book will reward you in the end, I promise. It will make you a better writer, and it will surprise you at every turn.
That’s the magic of creation. People so often bemoan the difficulty of it all. And yes, it’s a tough world out there. Publishing is rarely rewarding, and the book industry is turning on its head right now. But you have the power to do remarkable things, to be better at every turn, regardless of the details out there. Writing and editing are in your control, completely. And that is power. You can always get better.