It happens to the best of us. That’s kind of all I have to offer today.
Almost a month ago I got the edit memo from Penguin/Razorbill, the publisher of my middle grades series: fifteen single spaced pages of structural suggestions for Darwen III. Anyone who thinks traditional publishers don’t edit books anymore haven’t been around the Razorbill folk, who are extraordinarily good at their job and as extraordinarily thorough. The downside is that such thoroughness demands a hell of a lot of work from me, and if I thought I was nearly done when I sent the first draft in, I was sadly deluded. In this case, I had known there would be some major changes proffered because we’d been chatting about them over the summer, and when the letter arrived I was actually relieved that the requested edits were not more extensive.
I should also say that a tremendous amount of thought went into this memo and while I might quibble over a detail or two, there is no doubt in my mind that it will, when implemented, make for a better, richer, pacier book.
So why can’t I get it done?
Some of the reasons have nothing to do with the edit itself. Life has caught up with me of late, and I find myself mired in the middle of a busy semester of teaching in which I’m devoting a lot of my free days to school visits promoting the books, while doing conferences, signings and festivals on weekends. Factor in the usual domestic obligations of cooking and cleaning and coaching soccer, and things start to feel pretty squeezed. I know: you, me and the rest of the world, right?
What I’m not getting is sustained periods of time to work on the edit, and because the changes are major—moving or cutting scenes and characters in ways that create ripples (sometimes more like tidal waves) through the whole book—the whole feels daunting. I’ve probably cut a quarter of the book out, including the ending, and the whole has started to feel like a boat which is getting steadily less sea-worthy with each plank I rip out. Without consecutive days to work on the project I feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back each time I make any changes, because I waste so much time relearning what the book currently is and what I’ve already altered. I’m inching, snail-like, forward , covering so little ground that it barely seems like movement at all.
I should say that I still have faith in the book and in my editors, and that I WILL get it done (though the November 1st deadline is starting to feel like a speeding train heading in my direction). I’ve done (and written about) radical, invasive edits before, and I’m confident I can pull this off on schedule in ways which will make me proud of the finished product.
But right now I’m in the tall weeds, lost and starting to panic, frozen in my steps, unsure of where I left the path or how I might get back on it, certain that some of the plants around me are toxic or covered in thorns. I have a machete somewhere, but I can’t seem to locate it, and the sun is going down fast.
That’s what it feels like, editing, and no I’m not here to offer (or to seek from readers) a happy little solution or a Buck-Up-Kiddo message. I’m here to say that it sucks, and I’m not sure how I’m going to get through it.
Except that I have done so before, that I will again, and that this does indeed happen to the best of us.
Remembering that might just help me get it done.