How’s that book of yours coming along? Are you finished yet? Can I read a chapter? Do you want to go get coffee and talk about anything that will keep me from having to edit my own book?
I wrote my first full-length novel, To Lennon, With Love, last year. I wrote it in the spare moments between my day job, social commitments, and basic life responsibilities like bathing and sleeping. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I even snuck sentences in on the job.
To me, planning and writing the book is the fun part. It’s an accomplishment, and it’s worth celebrating. As I wrote, I even thought: Hey, one day I can print this sucker out, hold it in my hands, and make sweet little comments with my pretty purple pen!
Uh huh. Right.
Want to know what actually happened?
I printed it out and it sat on my desk for two months, completely untouched.
When I finally started reading through it, I did one little chunk at a time. And I spent the whole time wondering why the heck I bothered.
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Some writers like the editing process. If you’re anything like me, you’d rather lock your manuscript in a drawer somewhere and go back to school to study accounting. (And I hate numbers.) It’s not that I don’t believe in my book; it’s just that I really, really don’t want to edit it.
That’s okay! Professional editors exist, and they can do to our manuscripts what we can’t.
Until you send your baby off to be polished by a pro, here are some methods for surviving Editing Hell (otherwise known as EH) and for loving your book through it all:
Just read it.
When you enter EH by reading through your manuscript for the first time, it’s easy to get distracted by the missing commas and apostrophes. But sometimes the best thing you can do is read it as a reader, not as an editor. Jot notes when you notice errors or gaping plot holes, but save the little details for your next read-through. Or, better yet, your editor.
Find an editor you trust.
Your book is your creative baby. You want it in the hands of someone who not only edits well but understands you and your goals as a writer. Take your time, do your research, and find an editor you can trust. Someone to walk with you through the fiery depths of EH.
If you don’t already know which editor you want to hire, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) is a good place to start. Joanna at The Creative Penn also provides a list of helpful resources if you’re searching for the right editor. Getting a sample edit is a good idea so you can assess whether or not you and your editor will work well together as a team.
Prepare for constructive criticism.
The single greatest benefit of hiring an editor, aside from polishing your manuscript, is that she didn’t write your book. She’s looking at it with a fresh perspective. There’s no umbilical cord connecting her to the character that needs to be cut or the scene that needs a rewrite. This makes it easier for her to tell you what’s working and what isn’t.
Her criticism will be constructive. It won’t be personal, and it won’t be pointless. (At least, it shouldn’t be.) Keep this in mind, because it’s highly unlikely she’ll send your manuscript back with a gold star and a single comment that says, “Perfect. Don’t change a thing.”
Speaking of which…
Don’t let discouragement settle in.
In her book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, Betsy Lerner says, “Writing demands that you keep at bay the demons insisting that you are not worthy or that your ideas are idiotic or that your command of the language is insufficient.”
If you’ve managed to write a book, you’ve probably felt most of those things.
When you read through your manuscript for the first time, you could love it, hate it, or feel completely ambivalent about it. It’ll be even scarier when you send it off to your editor and find yourself wishing you’d just changed that one tiny thing first. Discouragement is okay, as long as you don’t stay there. Recognize it, feel it for a minute, and then move on. You have more books to write, and discouragement and self-pity aren’t going to write them for you.
Focus on the fun part.
Writing the book is the best (and sometimes hardest) part, but while you’re in EH, you can embrace the other fun aspects of producing a book. Use social media to connect with other writers who are in this with you. Make a list of fun, effective ways you can start marketing your book. Create a playlist for each character or a novel inspiration board on Pinterest to share with your readers. Design your book cover (if you’re savvy) or hire someone to do it for you. Get creative and have fun with it. Whether this is your main source of income or not, you can still enjoy the process.
One of the best parts of being an indie author is the opportunity for learning and growth. You learn a lot when you write and publish a book yourself, but whether you’ve done it once or one hundred times, you should never stop learning.
Here are some of the books that have informed and inspired me most as a writer:
- The Art of Work by Jeff Goins
- The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (one of my favorites!)
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
- Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (a great book for introverts and creatives in general)
Believe it or not, editing isn’t a necessary evil. It’s just necessary. And it doesn’t have to suck. Besides, just on the other side is a book you’ll be happy to share, promote, and even read for yourself.
What are your methods for surviving editing hell? Let me know in the comments below, and join the Ladies in Read on Pinterest for daily writing tips and inspiration!