You know that feeling you get when your teacher is posting grades for papers or tests? How you brace yourself, take a deep breath and hold it like you’re doing the Ice Bucket Challenge?
It’s the same thing with books. Imagine getting your corrected test or term paper back, only it’s 400 pages long.
My edits still come on paper. The UPS man (or woman) knocks on my door and hands me a big, fat package. There’s no mistaking it for anything else. It’s manuscript shaped.
I bring it in and set it on the kitchen counter with a mixture of reverence and terror. What is my editor going to say? How much am I going to have to rewrite? How many stupid mistakes did I make? The only way to know is to open it and find out.
That’s a lot of paper. On top is a letter that summarizes all the things that are wrong with the book. Sometimes this is a long letter.
I usually read it standing right there by the counter. Then I hyperventilate. And then I go for a walk, or a coffee, or a something, and I don’t come back until I stop feeling like a loser for not writing a Perfect First Draft. (No one writes a perfect first draft, no matter what they tell you. There are always things that can be better. I have been tempted to go through Barnes and Noble with a pen and tweak the phrasing here and there in my books on the shelf.)
That big pile of paper sits on the kitchen counter—maybe a few hours, maybe a day, maybe a weekend—while I cogitate on how I’m going to fix what I need to fix. (Sometimes it’s something big like “This entire part in the museum here doesn’t make sense.” Sometimes it’s small but pervasive, like adding more explanation of how magic works or description of settings.)
Finally, the manuscript gets to move to the workspace. (In this case, the sofa.)
I’m not quite ready to open the document on the computer and start haphazardly making changes. First I go through my editors’ (and agent’s) notes, page by page, wincing at the things I think I should have caught myself, or the things I thought I could get away with but didn’t, scribbling my own ideas, getting up every now and then to freak out. Like, “How I’m going to cut 25 pages out of the middle without losing any of my brilliant scenes?!” Or, my favorite: “OMG I have to come up with a logical reason for that to happen?” Or it’s close cousin,”It doesn’t seem like they know what’s going on there because I don’t know what’s going on.”
From there on… I won’t say it’s easy, but the analytical part of your brain kicks in and you flinch less. Two things safe my sanity right now: (1) I know I’m my own worst critic while working on a book, but (2) I can still fix things. I try and enjoy that while it lasts.
PS It’s not a Goodnight book.
PPS It doesn’t come out for more than a year. But it’s going to be EPIC when it does.