Andrew and I are joking that we should call ourselves, "The Midnight Editors" because it seems that way too much of this book is getting edited between the hours of midnight and 2 AM. It's just that it's so nice and quiet during those times. With six children in the house, this is the only time that it seems this novel will get done.
Occasionally people ask me to describe what the editing process actually looks like. Since my memory of this time tends to dissipate into a blear of lost sleep once the book is actually published, I thought I'd jot down some notes from the front lines.
This stage, the final edit, is where I suspect the best writing on the book gets done, even though it can be painfully like beating an equine cold corpse at times. It is also the point at which I (and I suspect most writers) are "in the zone."
At this point, the book is written. You have your creative opening sentence at the beginning and your killer climactic moment at the end. You've written, "The End." You've set your chapter openings and breaks. You've done your grammar and spellchecks. You've done a search and replace on MS Word to replace all non-smart quotes with smart quotes, and to replace double hyphens with dashes.
Now is when you do your real writing. How? By reading it. Over and over and over and over again. Each time you read it, you change the parts that don't sound as good. You pause in your reading when daily life interrupts you (and at this stage, interruptions are helpful), then return and start reading it again with more of a fresh mind. You read and edit, read and edit, then stop. Then you re-read and edit more, re-read and edit more.
In this way, you can get through your book (at least the first part and the last part) at least a hundred times.
You're switching your brain constantly between "reader" mode and "editor" mode. In reader mode, you follow the emotional progression of the plot. You laugh at the jokes. You skip the boring parts. If you have Andrew's brain, you also notice the typos, and the parts where the character turns off his car twice in the same paragraph.
In editor mode, you're fixing the boring parts - ejecting them, making them shorter or reworking them (yet again) to give them significance. You're trying to think of better punchlines. You're deciding whether or not it's better to say of a sunset landscape that it was "tempting" or "inviting." You're debating as to how much information you should give the reader now, and trying to remember what it is that the reader would know by this point in the story.
I try to read my opening chapters the most because they have to be the best, especially the first three pages. It's easy to get sick of those opening pages. If after reading them a hundred times, you still find *some* parts that are interesting, your book is in pretty good shape.
The best part of this book has been that my husband Andrew is working on it so closely with me. This is different: before, I was always working with Bethlehem Books editors, and I wrote Waking Rose expecting that I would have it published by someone else. But The Midnight Dancers is the first book whose excellence is dependent almost entirely on us.
So we are reading it VERY closely.
And arguing. We each have a typical part in the argument.
I am the author: I have my favorite parts, the bits that I want for "me", for my art, for my "moment," not for the plot. My message, my heartache, my piece to say in print.
He is the reader: he gets bored by the parts that are too much about "me." He hammers his hand and demands I get ON with the story. He demands I demonstrate the importance of everything in the story.
Microsoft Word is the battleground. We have the "track changes" tool on, so every keystroke is instantly highlighted in red on the screen. He reads a sentence, says, "Too wordy," and deletes it. It vanishes into a red bubble on the side of the screen.
I become an advocate for the sentence. I right-click on it, reject his change. I then rewrite it, and it's a blaze of red across the monochrome page. He points out I just used the word "fastidiously" twice in the same paragraph (and it was *not* for stylistic effect). I rewrite. His head nods. I highlight the text and right click "Accepted." Black and white unity returns. On to the next paragraph.
(Repeat this process a thousand times.)
After a while, we start to get silly. We "accept" changes, and belt out Marie Miller's song, "I am Accepted, hey yeah-eh-yeah!" We "delete" changes, and bellow like StrongBad, "Deleted Forever!"
Today the delete-accept war reached titanic proportions when he declared that two scenes (one of which was my favorite, set in a fabric store) were "useless." He highlighted them and hit a key. DeLETED! I yelped as five pages of manuscript vanished from the page and were sucked into a red bubble on the sidebar. I dabbed out a quick hand: cntrl-Z. Text restored in red glory! Yelling back, he hit "redo" and the pages vanished. Delete! Restore! Delete! Restore! Unable to sustain the serious frustration of the moment, we dissolved into laughter.
I agreed to go back and rewrite the offensive scenes to justify them. He decided to break the cycle of Midnight Editing and go to bed at 9:30.
I stayed up and rewrote the scenes, embellishing them with a few plot points to please my editor, then re-read them tenderly and assured them that they won't be cut from the manuscript.
I can't tell if I'm preserving a scene that posterity will adore, or just stroking my ego.
No doubt my editor will let me know in the morning.
PS: My editor just stagged back up to the computer to make sure I'm okay. He edited this blog post before I could post it. It is much better.
For the record, he takes issue with the phrase "red glory" in the paragraph above, saying that he remembers the text being restored as black and white.