I recently interviewed Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, whose debut YA Fantasy Beautiful Creatures has already been published in 30 countries. Not bad for two women who wrote the book on a dare and never intended to submit it for publication—but more on that next month when their interview airs. Kami and Margaret, as you have probably guessed, are a writing team. Every chapter is passed back and forth between them and edited with such ruthless disregard for the other’s attachment to a scene or a phrase (they call it a “very bloody process”) that by the end they often don’t know who wrote what.
I can’t imagine writing a novel with anyone else, but I have to say I admire these two women. Currently, my wife is the only one to whom I show my work before it goes off to my agent, and I think she has come to dread the delivery of my latest draft. This is entirely my fault. I was not always that gracious when it came to receiving criticism, constructive or otherwise. By the time she was done telling me what she thought of what she had read I was often wondering why she had bothered marrying me.
But I have mellowed over the years, and the protectiveness I once felt for every sentence has fallen away. The beauty of Kami and Margaret’s process is that if a line or scene doesn’t serve the story, it’s gone, no questions asked. After all, that’s the only reason a line or scene was written in the first place. The trouble comes when a line isn’t written to serve the story but the writer. Not surprising in this case that a writer might snarl or crumble when someone criticizes what he or she has written.
As I have said before, our work is not us, and the editing process is where we must be most clear about that. And if you have suffered the confusion of mistaking your work for you—trust me when I tell you it is a great relief to end that perception. Not only does the work flourish, free as it is now to shed its precious but unwanted trappings, but you may rest a little easier as well knowing there isn’t some second you bouncing around New York, vulnerable to all the knives of other people’s taste.