What editing looks like, from the inside out

In my experience, the first draft is the most difficult to write. With my first memoir, the first draft took five years, and with Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982, it wasn’t much less – about three years, give or take several stretches of writing drought.

That’s the creative process, folks. It requires constant attention.

I always run my first drafts by someone who loves me. My early work can be messy, and my writer’s ego is tender. I need a critic who loves me more than I need the hard criticism that might kill the work. With the first memoir, my first editor was my second husband. With Truth, Dare, it was mom, who probably knew me best when I was 15, the year that Truth, Dare is about. It was a little strange, even in my 40s to let Mom read what I wrote in my diaries, but she was the loving supporter I needed to make the story better.

As Mom correctly diagnosed at this point in the process, I couldn’t figure out who was telling my story – the 15-year-old me or the 40something me.

So I hired a developmental editor. Brit Washburn helped me sift the wheat from the chaff.

Much to my dismay, the chaff was literally my secondary story, a progressive story that me and my friends wrote in high school. It was a highly embellished version of what we might have written as teenagers that I was using it to add drama to what felt like a story without an arc. But Brit helped me see this secondary story was cluttering up the landscape and the real story of learning to kiss and navigate relationships with the opposite sex was interesting enough by itself.

The editing process is like that — removing one’s teeth by oneself. With a pliers. And no pain-killer.

Before pulling the plug on the secondary story, I ran it by my friend Jill who also happens to be a main character in Truth, Dare. Her advice sealed the deal. She said the story reminded her of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is written for fifth graders. Ugh.

So I cut out the secondary story, which required polishing up what remained (and obviously necessary). Brit had helped me find my voice – my 15-year-old voice. So I preserved my adult observations in footnotes. Oh, and I needed a proper ending (which is probably a whole blog post in and of itself).

The polishing (and further writing) process took another year of work.

And then it was ready for editing again. Oh, joy! I think some indie authors skip the editing process, much to the detriment of their readers. It requires time and money, but the return on investment is worth it. No use foisting a rash of typos and grammar issues on the poor readers. So back to Brit my story went. A month later, my prize was this message: “Congratulations! As I said before, this draft reflects a substantial improvement over the previous one, both in terms of style and coherence.  I think you’ve succeeded in zeroing-in on a target audience and presenting an engaging narrative to the reader.”

* * *

blogging-bonanza-bugI’m celebrating the countdown to the launch on March 28 of Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982 with a month-long blogging bonanza, which means I’ll be blogging here every day this month about my book, about memoirs in general and about the launch.

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One thought on “What editing looks like, from the inside out

  1. Pingback: Indie Tips Friday: It’s OK to mourn what you’ve lost (but let it go anyway) | Monica Lee

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