Friday, April 12, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Killing Babies

The veteran novelists will tell you new kids that writing a book is like childbirth. First, you'll conceive an idea. Then it will form into a baby as you write. And then, after a lot of effort (and some discomfort)

You'll give birth to a baby novel.

After that, you take a knife to it.

You see, your baby novel's arms will come out of its ears and its mouth will be in the center of its forehead.

And... well... it's head is going to face the wrong way. Unless it has two...

It's your job as writer to make sure that everything goes more or less to where it's supposed to.

"But that's an editor's job," some of you new kids are grumbling. Yeah. I know. I can read your mind...

But the thing is, I hope you have a lot of money. Because that editor charges you for every draft. Unless they tell you to send in a polished draft in the first place.

And no, editors at publishers don't acquire books that'll take long to fix. Don't even mention agents right now. Us vets will only laugh. Somewhat hysterically.

Therefore, making your baby presentable is your job. And sometimes, doing so is incredibly difficult. You might have to remove whole story-lines. Or cut out some of your favorite moments. Or even characters. Or you know the character trying to hog the lime-light? You might even have to make him understudy.

You see, sometimes, there are moments in the book that's so wonderful, that you'll have to take them out because the reader will notice you in the writing. Those feel like you're ripping your book to pieces.

And you'll have to do it. Because the story as a whole must be more important than any of its parts. Otherwise, it just won't work.

One highlight at the end of this bleak picture, though. Or maybe two... It tends to get easier with practice. (Especially if you manage to get some distance from the story before editing.) Also, the rewards of a good editing round are amazing. Because if you do it right, each round of revisions and edits (and there are many of them) will bring your book closer to what you envisioned in the beginning.

Who loves editing? Who hates it? What's the thing you had to cut out or change that absolutely broke your heart?


  1. I like editing! My favorite step of the process. The story is before me and I can finally do something with it.
    And I had an ending for my next book that just didn't line up with the rest of the story. (It actually came to me first, but as I worked on an outline, I knew it wouldn't fit.) I'll save it for another story.

  2. Forget just editing...sometimes killing your baby means putting the manuscript to sleep...and moving on. I have one in my files that was my first, most beautiful baby. I loved her and helped her grow and she helped me grow...and then one day I had to say goodnight and (pardon the pun) close the book on her.

    As for edits, I struggle with them. HARD. That's when I go from having the best job in the world, to having the suckiest, hardest job ever.

    But I do it. Because my editor would hate me if I sent her a messy manuscript.

  3. Like Alex, I too love editing. I like the way you compared writing to childbirth.

  4. I LOVE EDITING. Can I say that louder? I HATE FIRST DRAFTS. There.

    When there's something on the page already, it's a blast to re-imagine it. It's like doing a fairy tale retelling: so easy to come up with a new spin or manipulate the context. I've done my fair share of baby killing. Maybe more than my fair share.

  5. I hate editing. Not because I have a hard time pulling my favorite scenes (how is it always my very favorite scene that gets cut??), but because it's so much work. It seems almost as impossible as writing the book the first time (sometimes it is as much work because it's a full rewrite!).

    So yeah, not my favorite

  6. I used to hate editing--truly. Now it's the part where I know my story is going to become something sharable, maybe even special. Editing takes a certain frame of mind. That frame of mind is this: You'll do whatever it takes to make the story awesome.

    Maybe that includes gutting it, as you say, maybe it won't be so drastic. Either way, the important thing is that you understand that editing is where the real writing begins. You can do this. This what you train to do, this is why you read those books on craft, etc. Now put it to work and make something truly awesome. :)

  7. editing is frustrating but at the end worth it. The trick is to have a group of beta readers who will catch what you miss, and we all miss a lot.

  8. I like revision! Well, most of the time. I agree, it's always hard to cut, unless I get the sense I'm on to something much better. Then I can get knife-crazy... I can't afford to leave too much to my editor. She's fantastic, but I can't afford to have her do more than two passes at the most. The WIP must be the best I can make it on my own before it goes to her. This was a great post and I have to say, love/hate the title! Good shocker!

  9. Oh Misha, that's such a cruel analogy. I do actually enjoy editing but think I get a bit too hooked on it.

  10. I began to love editing a few years ago, when I finally had enough writing maturity and distance from my older books to be able to make changes with a clear head. I changed a lot over the last 20, 15, 10, even 5 years. The more recent books need less changes than the books and parts of books I wrote as a teenager, but it's still fun to tinker and see what needs changed.

    My first series with my Atlantic City characters, however, I decided would be far too much time and effort to bother transcribing and undertaking massive edits on, so it's permanently shelved. There are still storylines I'll take out for other books set along that same timeline. Some of the characters in that series also aren't coming back, except for a few integral ones. I really only created most of those new people to give my already large cast of characters a bunch of new friends.

  11. Strip that baby down to the basics!

    I like to edit. I print off the pages so I can read it someplace besides in front of my computer.

  12. I enjoy editing. Right up to the point where I have to cut that absolutely wonderful, best-thing-I've-ever-written part. Oh, the agony.

  13. This title was quite a hook in the gut. I only blog, but this is excellent advice. Even a short post of a few hundred words often needs to be pruned and rearranged. Excellent. So thankful that you stopped by my place earlier today.

  14. I've never encountered a description of the newborn novel as unique as this. I would find it hilarious if it weren't true. "But it's got my eyes!"

  15. Are we talking editing or revision? I LOVE revision. It's so cleansing. I hate to take parts out at first, but when it's done well it just reads and feels so much better that it's totally worth it! Editing is okay. Just tedious and easy to miss things like an it's for an its.
    Maybe I haven't done this long enough, but in elementary school we teach that editing and revising are two different things. It doesn't sound that way here. Thoughts? Are these interchangeable in the writing world?

  16. This analogy totally cracked me up. Eye catching post title, no question! :D

  17. Count me in the HATE editing camp!! :)

  18. I've never had the need to edit. Then again, I'm an accomplished pawblisher. Hope you read my soon to be released book about my puppy years titled, "My First Bark" :)

    Be well, human friend, Misha. Peaceful weekend to you.

    Pawsitive wishes,

    Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar!

  19. I no longer feel bad about cutting things from my manuscripts.

    I love revising, but editing is a pain. I do several rounds of edits anyway.

  20. I've tossed the equivalent of two novels. It was good that I did because that stuff was terrible! Edit. Edit. Edit. My new mantra.

  21. I generally like the first three of four edits .... By the time the 100th come along, I am SOOOOOO OVER IT!!!! LOL.

    Have a great weekend Misha....

  22. I was scared when I first read your title. Then I was happy to know that I was actually going to learn something. Then I felt a little sad that my novel may never be finished. I should probably edit this comment, but I'm too lazy. ;)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  23. Great post! As a freelance editor, it's hard to have that conversation with an author to advise them to do a few re-writes on their own before they send the project to me, but it's important to have. I would feel guilty if a writer sent their work to me and then so much changes they have to do it again, and again. Critiques are really a great way for authors to go through this process before they start spending the big bucks. So much in a story can change from where it began, but sometimes that's the best part, because that's when the true story comes out.


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