So you’ve spent the last two years writing a book and then, oh, happy day, your agent finds a publisher and the editor there just loves the manuscript and can’t wait to work with you. A couple weeks pass and you get an email from the editor and she again tells you how much she loves the book but she has some questions here and there she’d like you to address, plus she felt the middle could be tightened a little and she made some suggestions for that as well.
You dive into the edited manuscript. The right margin is a solid red wall of edits and comments. Once you get over your rage and shame you realize that a lot of the edits are just punctuation and words you shouldn’t have repeated and the comments are perfectly reasonable questions you hadn’t thought to ask about the story, you find the experience curiously gratifying. It’s like the editor and you are having a conversation about something you both love.
Then you come to the middle. Your editor wants you to cut that whole scene at the café where the heroine sees someone who looks like her dead mother and it sparks a dream sequence where she imagines her life if she weren’t motherless. It’s a great scene because by the end your heroine realizes she couldn’t be who she is now if her mother hadn’t died. You loved that scene. Finding it was like revelation, so much so that you yourself felt changed a little after you’d written it. But your editor wants you to cut it. Her note says, “Nice stuff, but I think you show this more concretely in later scenes.”
You feel betrayed. You’d begun to think of your editor as a new friend, but no friend would ask you to cut this. Those two paragraphs in chapter four where you describe melting ice cream? Fine. They were a little over the top. But this isn’t over the top. This is real. When you finished the scene you actually thought, “This is why I wrote the book!”
For a moment, you consider digging in. You’ll change anything but this, and if they don’t want to publish the book, well, so be it. But then you glance ahead to the scene she’d mentioned, and you understand what she means, and you think about how writing the café scene helped you write this scene. You look at the dream sequence again. You still like it, you’re still glad you wrote it, but it’s not worth going to the mat over. You click, “Accept Change,” and it’s gone.
Except as you plod ahead through all her other edits, you can still feel what had changed within you when you found that dream sequence. It hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, it helped you finish the book – it’s even helping you right now as you accept all these changes. You hope all this polishing and tightening will help your readers feel changed too; that would be your gift to them. But in the meantime you’re glad for the gift the book gave you, glad you left in only what the book needed, and that you took out what only you needed.
Note: This essay was inspired by a question posed to me by a reader. If you have a question you’d like addressed in this space, feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to respond.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com