Writing, Editing and What Success Really Looks Like

On June 2, my debut novel The Best Kept Secret will be released by BookFishBooks. It's not my first effort at publication (when is a first novel ever?), but it is my first time experiencing the wonders of contract negotiations, cover design and, most importantly, editing.

The very word "editing" conjures all manner of magic and terror. There is hope in it, but fear, as well. Hope that your editor won't make your story bleed too much and fear that she will. Hope that your story will get stronger and fear that everyone will still hate it. I'm lucky; I signed with a small publishing company and I know almost everyone who works there by their first names. Many of them are authors themselves and they know how tedious and anxiety-inducing the process of getting ready to release a book can be. They offer encouragement and friendship while also keeping enough distance to be objective. I know I can ask them anything and that they will tell me the truth, whether I like it or not.

Since I just completed the heaviest round of edits on The Best Kept Secret, the memory of those first red marks is still fresh. Reading my editor's notes on what worked, what didn't and why made me feel both excited and defensive. It's only natural, after all, to feel slightly on edge when your work is critiqued, even if it's done kindly. You want to get it right; you want to dazzle everyone with your talent! And you will. But not yet. There's still time and there's still so much to get done.

The glory of editing lies in those moments when the work starts to come together. When what you wrote in Chapter 3 suddenly becomes critical to a scene in Chapter 12 even though, just days before, you weren't sure how to use it. When your characters start to pull you in another direction and, suddenly, the story is not what it once was. Not even close.

It's better.

I call that moment "The Terrible Twos." When you first meet a character, whether it's on paper or in your mind, everything is new and precious. You can't wait to get to know them, to discover their personalities and their passions, to shape their world into something worthwhile. And then, suddenly, they turn on you. They take everything you've given them and smash it all onto the floor. They run down a path you have strictly forbidden and, if they're feeling exceptionally feisty, turn around and taunt you. But all isn't lost. In fact, the good stuff is just beginning.

These challenges -- the unexpected changes that come up when your character begins to look differently than you first imagined -- are some of the most beautiful parts of writing and editing, despite the fact that they can also be frustrating. But isn't that the way of things? The best kind of story is born from mess because mess makes everything more interesting.

When my editor told me that my main character's response to a tragedy in the book was unrealistic, I felt the need to explain myself and tell her why she just didn't understand the emotion behind that scene. But it was wrong and I knew it. My book is a young adult novel and my main character is a 15-year-old girl named Emma. And while I'd like to think that when I was her age I was a mature teenager, as many of the young women I know are, I was still a thinking, feeling human being. And Emma's composure in that particular scene looked like passivity, not strength. It took two weeks of edits to straighten things out, but I think we're getting there. And when the book is complete, I feel certain the story will be all the better for it.

So don't fear the edits; enjoy them. Not only are they crucial, they're an opportunity to take something good and transform it into something unforgettable. Your readers don't know how many hours and how much effort it took to do what you've done, but they will appreciate it. I won't deny that I want my work to be read and enjoyed. I believe that to create without someone bearing witness is only fulfilling half the purpose. First, we create because we cannot help ourselves. It is God's thumbprint on us, this need to make and remember and express. But, secondly, we create because we want to share. Because we have poured out our souls onto paper and left them laid bare, ready to meet the world in hopes that someone else will recognize us.

We want to connect with others who will look at our work and say, "Yes, me too." And when we do that, we can truly call ourselves successful.