28 May A debut author’s view of the editing process
By Jeanie Waudby
Cross The Line will be my first published book, so the experience of being edited was something new for me. But it was also something I had looked forward to, because after years of self-editing and rewriting I knew how difficult it is to know when to stop, and how hard it becomes to see what is really there. I’ve found my critique groups (one online, one face-to-face) invaluable in helping me see how the book comes across to readers, and I think I’m quite open to listening to constructive criticism. But being edited for publication is a different experience, and one that I’m very grateful to have experienced.
When Chicken House bought my book, I was very pleased to find out that Imogen was my editor. We began by using her Book Map to plot out the story and see where changes were needed, focusing on characters and themes that needed work. This felt like a very collaborative process to me and the Book Map was similar to a grid I had made myself, so it felt intuitive to use it. The big difference was that I had mixed the events and motivation, and separating them out made everything much clearer. It also highlighted problems. The scenes which I ended up rewriting or adding were the ones I had subconsciously decided were too difficult to write. It was hard to write them but I believe it made the story stronger. I’ve learnt from this not to back away from scenes I feel resistant to writing, because maybe they are the heart of what drives the story. I think this process may be what Robert McKee refers to in Story as going to ‘the end of the line’.
Another thing that struck me in writing new scenes for a ‘finished’ book was that nothing is really set in stone. You can write a new scene, or several versions, and see which is stronger. It only needs to end up in the novel if it works. This might seem obvious, but to me it has been a revelation.
The line edit was the process that felt the most different, because this time my book came back with suggested changes in the margins. Normally it would only have been me who made these kinds of comments, so at first it felt odd. But I think this is where the trust between editor and writer comes in. After I’d looked through them and started working through the changes, it actually became very exciting. It felt like a conversation, and going back and forwards through the book making tiny changes and fitting things in was great. So often when rewriting my own work I had had a sense of being a bit in the dark, but this time I could see it as a whole. I think what Imogen did was to give me an overview and hep me to see the threads running through the story, as well as making me really question the reasons why everything was there. She didn’t miss any of the places where I’d thought: ‘Nobody will notice that!’
I’m currently editing my next book, and having been through the editing process with Cross the Line I feel more confident that I’ll be able to pull it together. Now I can see the bits that I was tempted to put offstage or sweep under the carpet, and I know that they are probably the crucial scenes, at the heart of why I wanted to write the story in the first place. I knew before that editing was crucial, but now I can see how fun and exciting it can be as well.