Writing and Revising the Best of All Possible Books
Hey guys! First thing’s first: there was a clear winner in the “pick my author photo for me decisions are hard” election. You guys loved photo #3, and so that was what I sent on to my lovely editor! This will be my face, FOR THE AGES.
Second of all, I know I’ve been quiet lately. That’s because I’ve been doing that mysterious writer thing called revising. A few weeks ago, right after I got my big ol’ edit letter (alongside a marked-up manuscript which bore a veritable and literal rainbow of sticky notes), a friend asked me if I was planning to blog the editing process. But he wondered if doing so might be problematic. After all, you don’t want to reveal conflicts between author and editor.
Funny thing, though. It’s not that I haven’t been blogging because I disagree with my editor. Quite the opposite, actually–and more on that in a moment. I actually haven’t blogged because I’ve been really busy. Working till three or four in the morning busy. Scratching my head and moving stuff around in scrivener and pushing myself harder than I’ve ever been pushed before busy.
In my off-time (that is, when I’m in the bath), I’ve been reading a biography of JD Salinger. The contrast between ol’ Jerry’s editing process and my own is striking. He finished The Catcher in the Rye and then immediately boxed it up to his agent. He got annoyed when an editor asked him if Holden was “crazy.” He freaked out over a lot of stuff, it seems. Didn’t want his editor messing with his vision. And while it’s difficult to argue with his end result–The Catcher in the Rye is pretty perfect in both conception and execution, no?–I can’t help but feel like my own moments worrying about my own “vision” and whether someone (an agent, an editor, a critique partner) might ruin it were mostly moments wasted.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying a writer should accept every editorial change unthinkingly. I have strong instincts about my work and what does and doesn’t fly. In our short business relationship, my editor has already reminded me that I should feel free to shoot down her ideas. It’s a nice reminder that my book is ultimately my book.
But I do think that even inapplicable feedback is helpful feedback. Even if a suggestion or criticism doesn’t jive with my vision of my work, it’s helpful to know how a reader who is very different from me approaches that work. Reader response is always valid, and interesting. The ability to synthesize a whole bunch of reader feedback into glittering generalities about what readers want has been key to my growth as a writer.
But I also count myself lucky to be surrounded by people–friends and critique partners, my lovely agent, my lovely editor–who are a whole lot smarter than I am. About the business. About books. I trust their instincts, and their faith in the raw material of my novel. I know that they want Starglass to be the best book it can possibly be.
Because look: Starglass has changed a lot since I first started drafting it. Back in 2010, it was a fairly quiet story about a girl whose mom had died called Daughter of Earth. I needed more conflict, so I though, “Okay, I’ll throw in a rebellion. Or something.” While Terra will always be, at her core, a girl whose mom had died, that secondary conflict–that rebellion–has grown in importance mightily. Minor characters have been fleshed out to become whole people. The world–once a stock SF setting–has been enriched. There are now themes and a hearty dose of epicness.
I never imagined myself writing an epic novel. The writer I was in 2010 probably could not have executed the task. But because I was open to suggestions from people who are smarter than I am, this book has grown so, so far past its original conception. And it’s much better than it once was. A better book.
And fundamentally different. If you’re a writer, you might know the feeling of having an entire universe in your head. Your mind contains characters, stories, which sometimes feel like they’re floating around independent of you and your body and your life. The first version of Starglass was one of these stories. Subsequent revisions–and there have been many–weren’t so much a readjustment of the original vision but a fresh new version. It’s like a “many worlds” theory of books. Revision has not just been a refinement of that original but rather a guided tour through many possibilities. The end result, I hope, will be to find the ideal version–not only the best of all possible worlds, but the best of all possible books.