A Word Miser’s Experience with Line Edits

I have two confessions.

I hold tightly to my words.

And of all the things that lay ahead as a contracted author, line-edits made me the most nervous.

Here’s my truth. I’m in love with words. I love stringing them together in creative and clever ways to paint pictures for the reader. I don’t like deleting them. And I’m super protective of my voice.

So the idea of line-editing scared me.

I admitted all this to my incredibly talented line-editor, Lissa Johnson, and she said it’s a common malady for writers, especially beginners. Which makes sense if you think about parenting. We tend to be much more uptight with our first born, don’t we?

So how did line-edits go? Did I have to get rid of words I wanted to keep? Does the writing still sound like me? Was it as painful as I feared? Is the story better?

Good. Yes. Yes. Yes (but not in the way I expected). Very much.

Allow me to elaborate….

I deleted words I wanted to keep.
This is a reality for line-editing. I had to delete some of my more creative descriptions. One of the things I loved about Lissa was that she didn’t just tell me to delete them. She explained why they weren’t working.

Descriptions shouldn’t pull the reader from the story. Not even for the sake of admiring the prose. We can get away with it on occasion, but the more often we do it, the more we risk creating a choppy read for our audience. And choppy’s never good.

I’m learning that subtle and simple is usually best. A hard lesson for a writer who tends to go purple.

My voice is still my voice.
Lissa suggested changes, and even made changes, but she did so in my voice. She stayed true to who I am on the page and put to rest my biggest fear: That by the time this story makes it to the shelf, it will no longer sound like me.

Line-editing is painful.
Yes, it is. But not for the reasons I expected.

Deleting a beloved description wasn’t the painful part.

Having to scrutinize a novel I didn’t want to scrutinize was.

I had to look at so many of my words and make sure they meant what I wanted them to say. I had to look at so many of my details and make sure they were accurate and well-researched.

And I had to do it all while wanting to chuck the story out the window. At this point, I’ve edited this thing more times than I can count.

Combing through it so meticulously yet again made me cross-eyed. My lovely editor, Shannon Marchese, assured me that my strong feelings of dislike toward my story were very normal.

The pain is worth it.
Saying goodbye to some of my words was hard. But after stepping back, I discovered that Lissa was usually right. The changes improved the story. And although I might be permanently cross-eyed, it’s now much cleaner. Much smoother. Much better.

I’m learning something I always suspected. Editors are amazing. At least the good ones are.

And when it comes to editing, we’re wise to ignore those feelings of defensiveness, embrace some humility, and trust that they know what they’re doing.

Chances are, they’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have.

***

What scares you most about getting a book ready for publication? What excites you the most?

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36 thoughts on “A Word Miser’s Experience with Line Edits

  1. Sorry if this looks like a repeat to some of you! I had this on my blog a couple weeks ago – but something wonky happened on our end and this was a backup post. Make sure to come back tomorrow for an all-new post!

  2. Thank you Katie, for your post. It made me laugh because it sounded just like me and, I would suspect, many other authors too!
    The first time I ever sent a manuscript for a report & edit, I wanted to throw it out the window when it came back. BUT, after I’d calmed down, I re-wrote the whole book taking into consideration the points made.
    What scares me most now when I send them in? A repeat of that first flunk! Fortunately that hasn’t happened. Yet!
    What excites me most? Knowing that my editor will give me an amazingly encouraging report, then offer some very wise suggestions and teach me a little more for the journey.
    Yes, editors ARE brilliant, and mine at Cornerstones is just lovely. She is gifted in a way that shows me what needs changing/correcting or deleting without critisism or discouragement. I’ve learned so much from her.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dee! Encouragement and growth are two things I think all of us hope for when we move through edits! Sounds like you have some fabulous ones at Cornerstones. 🙂

  3. This is great advice, and I missed it on your blog so all good!

    It is really intimidating to work with an editor, but she can become your best friend (and, in my case, a friend for life!). It is worth the pain.

    I’m actually working on a post about editing, and this inspired me. Thanks Katie!

  4. Finally, someone has addressed my thoughts exactly! I thought I was the only one who felt tired of my own story while still loving every word and phrase in it. If I didn’t know better I’d think I wrote this. I need to know how to get in touch with this wonderful Shannon person!

  5. Katie, I love your raw honesty!! Seriously, you’re an inspiration!

    “my strong feelings of dislike toward my story were very normal.” Man, I needed to hear this. As I edit the guts out of my stories I always question if they’re really worth all this work as I hate them in this phase. And that’s when they haven’t even reached an editor yet. Can’t imagine how tough it will be to line-edit AGAIN if they do ever sell. It’s the overall story that keeps me struggling in the edits, I believe in it, and that’s the only thing that keeps me trudging along in the editing.

    • Hi Dianne. Not everyone does. For me, all of this comes with getting a contract with a publishing house. And believe it or not, they pay ME! So that’s nice! But some people opt to hire an independent editor to help them polish their work. It’s not necessary though. I never paid for edits before I landed an agent and then a publishing contract.

  6. Finding an agent or publisher is the most daunting task before me. The most exciting part? An signed contract!

    I certainly understand the angst of subjecting one’s writing to the editing process, but have found it becomes easier over time. However, there once was a section in an article that needed to be pulled. I did indeed delete it from the piece, but not from my computer. It has been residing there ever since, patiently waiting for another chance at life in a future article.

    • Peter! A man I can understand! I do this exact SAME thing when I have to delete a particular piece of writing that I love. I have a file full of my deleted babies, in hopes that they will fit in something else I write. 🙂

      Good luck to you as you search for an agent and publisher!

    • Agent Rachelle Gardner had a great post yesterday on her blog about the importance of a polished manuscript. It all depends on the writer and the manuscript, but polishing the manuscript with a professional edit can actually be a step toward being published.

  7. Hi Katie,
    Perfect timing. I get to start line edits on book 2 sometime this coming week. I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that this time around. I usually print out a hard copy because I tend to catch things better that way and then go back to the computer. Is that what you do? And how long does it usually take you? I’m supposed to have mine back October 1st and with the ACFW fast approaching and the day job and family stuff busy, busy I’m trying to figure out the best approach this time around. I feel a tension headache coming on, no time for that! All advice welcome!

    • Hey Jillian – I can imagine how much you have on your plate with a job and writing and family! Not easy!! I do all my work off the computer. For me, I address all the specific things my editors pointed out first, then I went back through from beginning to end to work on the overall flow and such. Sorry I can’t offer you more helpful advice!

  8. I’m waiting for the line edit of my new book and needed the reminder that a good editor (which I am assured I have) won’t distort my voice or miss my humor. Thanks.

  9. Katie – I love the word humility – it gets a bad rap when really it means realizing how we fit into our own lives, what’s our and what’s not – which has made it possible for me to ask for help and then accept it. So much easier! My writing has only gotten stronger from some great editors and I’m always grateful they took their precious time to show me how to be even better. Thanks for your service and jumping in early this morning with your post.

  10. I have an editor/mentor read over all my manuscripts before I send out query letters, so I’m pretty comfortable with her questions and cutting and deleting. I don’t take it personally and she’s always made my books better than they were before I gave them to her. She knows what she’s doing and I trust her. Those are key. I guess the way I look at it is, “I” wrote the book, it will always be “my” work, so if I have to change it up a bit, that’s fine with me.
    Good luck with your writing!
    Patti

  11. After, oh, maybe 742 drafts of my first novel, I fear I’ll change the things I should have kept and keep the things I shouldn’t have. It’s not that I’m unwilling to edit or make changes, it’s just that this evil second-guessing is paralyzing. I have no choice but to wait for an industry pro’s opinion.

  12. One thing I learned while doing line edits on my manuscript: It’s okay to ask questions about potential changes. I didn’t ask them on a daily basis–no need to drive my editor crazy. Instead, I kept a running list in a word document and used a lot of multicolored sticky notes. I also double-checked Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) to make sure of book editing guidelines. One thing I wish I’d done sooner: I wish I’d asked for my publisher’s in-house stylebook. I have a copy now that I will use for the next round of edits!
    Good post, Katie, and well worth the re-read!

  13. This sounds like me. When I write I tend to fall in love with my first words and try to stay loyal to whatever emotions or thoughts that caused me to write those words. I don’t usually write in haste and try to think things out carefully before I commit anything to paper (or screen). I know that I can often be wrong, but while I’m writing it seems so right and I hate admitting that I made a mistake.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

  14. I’m to the point right now where I’m wondering how I’m going to pull this manuscript together, and always in the back of my mind is what my editor will make of it. 🙂

    I loved Martha’s comment that humility is just seeing how we fit into our own lives.

  15. Katie, this post is so helpful! You are much further along on this writing path than I am, and I appreciate your transparency as you worked through your questions with your editor. Thanks for sharing. Your thoughts on humility are so true, in writing and other aspects of life. A humble spirit helps smooth out some of the snags in writing and life. I am thankful for an editing friend who has taught me so much about writing but also about mindset when it comes to others and “my” writing. Thanks, Katie!

  16. I love the analogy to parenting. Input to make changes that result in removing some of your favorite words is really hard. But the adage about killing our darlings is true.

  17. Oh yes. Edits make me nervous. For all the reasons you mentioned. But the thought of making my work BETTER would be REALLY exciting too. So, it’s one of those things I dread but at the same time would LOVE to be able to have to do! HA!

  18. Thanks for re-posting this topic, it answers a question I asked myself just he other day…. are other writers locked in this love/hate relationship with their stories? I don’t know what it’s like to revise a novel the multiple times you need to get things in order. But right now I do believe that if I throw up, I’d throw up the words from my picturebook;; which I’ve revised so many times I’ve lost count and yet every time I return to it, there’s something else out of line. I’m like, who changed that word?! I surely didn’t or did I . Blessings to you all for sharing from the heart!

  19. Great post, Katie! I feel the same way, and one thing that really helped me ‘let go’ of the words is to drop them into a separate document and tell myself I can always go back and ‘add them back in’ later if I want, or use them for another novel. I’ve never done either, but it sure makes me feel better to know I can go in and ‘visit’ them if I like! (:

  20. Katie, I just finished my first set of edits on my first novel and found so much of what you said to be true. I enjoyed it too, which surprised me. It was challenging though, much more so than what I had to do on my nonfiction book. So much more to keep track of! Great post and love the picture. LOL!

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