Friday, August 23, 2013

The Rewrite Meltdown by Sylvia McNicoll


Recently, I listened to my editor agree with a panel of two other editors that it was sometimes just one wonderful sentence that caused them to fall in love with a book.   Next day I asked her which sentence it was of Dying to Go Viral so that I would be certain that I didn’t take it out.

She hesitated.  Not a good sign. We had been working full out on a substantive edit.  (This is the major first edit that focuses the vision of your story.) and there had been extensive rewriting so there was that danger of destroying this one glorious, if imaginary, sentence. Maybe also I was just being a needy author in search of a compliment.
 Finally, to let her off the hook,  I suggested that it was the premise :  a 14 year-old girl gets a one week do over of her last week of life. She agreed quickly.

What I have learned about the editing process is that when the revision suggestions come in most writers’ first response is overly emotional because they’re overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy.  “I’ll never be able to achieve all the editor’s asked of me.  I don’t even know where to begin.”

Best advice, think on it for a few days.  Go into a dark room, put a blanket over your head and weep, if you must.  But don’t call the editor to vent until you’ve really thought the suggestions over.

“If you know so much about how this book should be written, why don’t you do it yourself?” was one author’s reaction.   “If you thought so much was wrong with the story, why the heck did you buy it?”was another.

As you’re weeping in your dark space, you may find you suddenly think of a solution to one of the problems suggested in the rewrite notice. You’re anxious to try to see if this turn works. Suddenly excitement takes over your inadequacy. Next thing you know, the new bit added to show character development is your favourite scene .  Then you’re on to the next problem.  Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, you end up rewriting your book and it’s better for it.  One writer I know says she loves the to-and-from teamwork between her and  someone else so intimately connected with her story.

Editors, I have a suggestion too.  Just compliment the writer . Then she won’t have to fish and maybe the time in the dark space will be shorter.


To learn more about Sylvia McNicoll's author journey, please visit her website.

3 comments:

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you for writing this article, Sylvia.
I remember the first time I was given a list of suggested rewrites by an article. I'd submitted a creative non-fiction story to a literary journal. I was over the moon when they accepted it. When I heard the news I was visiting with an aunt.
"They want it," I told her. "But..."
"But?" she asked.
"But they don't like some things about the story."
"Like?"
"Like the title."
"Well, what did you call it?"
"They think I'm Stupid. The editor things I should find a more positive title."
"Yes, I think so too," my aunt said. "What's it about?"
"How Grandma helped me see that I could be successful even in the light of my dyslexia. If not for her I don't think I would have."
"Oh, Leanne, that's wonderful. Grandma would be so proud of you. And that's what I think you should call it," my aunt said.
"What?"
"If Not for Her," my aunt said.
And that's what I did.

Laurie Buchanan said...

Sylvia - If the edits in my manuscript had been written in blood instead of red ink, it would have bled out completely in shipping :)

Melodie Campbell said...

Oh man, am I with you on this one. Especially the last bit. If only editors would tell you what they love, as well as what needs to be changed.
But that comes later, I find. It is especially evident, when they send you a contract for your next book.