We’re just over a week away from the release of From Under the Mountain, which is pretty hard to believe. Readers of this blog may remember that this book is one I’ve worked on for over ten years, and I’ve been reflecting this month on what it means to put a final polish on something like that.
I’m the kind of writer who tries to do a perfect first draft. It was one of the reasons that I didn’t actually finish a draft of Mountain until 2012. Plot and subplot messes aside, I would get frustrated and stop putting words on the page because those words on the page weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. Eventually, I got over that, in a right-time-write-place (pun intended) kind of magical Camp NaNoWriMo summer.
But I persist in being a writer who edits as she goes. Common wisdom is that it’s bad to do that, but hey, the thing about the writing process is that it can vary as much as writers themselves. Sure, there are times when the internal editor needs to take a vacation, but other times, it’s not a bad thing to have her peering over your shoulder as you write. I’ve had a lot of CPs and beta readers compliment me on my very clean drafts, and this (combined with obsessive plotting) is why. When I sit down to write, I read over what I did the day before and sometimes I revise things. Sometimes when I write, I linger in scenes until I get them where I want them to be.
There have been at least four times in From Under the Mountain‘s life when I thought it was perfect and didn’t need any more editing. The first was immediately after I finished drafting it. The second was when I started querying it. The third was when I revised, after getting help from beta readers after getting no offers from agents. And the fourth was when I submitted it and signed it with REUTS.
This of course led to funny mental gymnastics on my part, because I am a pub house editor and so I know that there’s always stuff to fix after the deal is signed. And I did know that would apply to From Under the Mountain, in a distantly factual way. But I was also pretty confident that, after ten gorram years, I’d pretty much gotten it all.
Spoiler alert: I hadn’t.
But there’s definitely a different vibe to editing with your publisher (or your freelancer, if you’re self-publishing). Ava Jae blogged about this recently. “There’s a safety net in knowing that you can always make changes later if you need to,” she said about editing pre-book deal. But once the deal is signed, the actual final round of editing is in sight. The time for experimenting is over–it’s time to commit to this plot, these characters, these details and core structures.
The final line edit is especially delicate, in my experience. It really is a polish, the way you’d clean an antique armoire or something. You’re taking a soft rag and going along every inch of that glossy wood, opening all the doors and drawers and dusting every corner to make sure it all gleams. And the editor is really, truly invaluable during this process. I say this as an editor myself–Kisa, as my editor, poked her rag into some corners I thought were clean–and they were, mostly. They weren’t dusty. But they weren’t shiny, either. I was skeptical when I read her comments, but when I heaved a sigh and tried out what what she suggested, literally every time it improved the scene.
And it really got me thinking about how wonderful this process is, and how as artists I think we get a lot out of the final polish–not as a way to stroke our own egos and pat ourselves on the back for producing an impeccable masterpiece or whatever. But as an opportunity to collaborate, and consider our work, in a more deliberate and precise way than usually happens in the overhauls and rewrites and beta rounds. This is the moment before you step on stage, the time to take a breath and be sure of yourself and the artists around you.
You have done good work. You and your editor and your cover artist and your book designer and everyone on down the line have done. good. work. Now is not the time to panic or worry about what people who are not you will do. Now is the time to settle into some well-earned satisfaction…at least until it’s time to go to work again.