Your first book: Editing
You wrote a book. YOUR first book! You are an AUTHOR!
This change of identity is as substantial as becoming someone’s mother. Except it’s seldom accidental, and not confined to the female gender. You’re now up there with Shakespeare, Hemingway and Stephen King. You are no longer a mortal. People can’t touch you without getting inspired! You are your own relic!
I have news for you.
That was the easy part. The hard part is about to begin.
Next stop: Editing.
WTF you say.
You have a lump of coal. Black. Dirty. Yours.
You just need to apply pressure and make it into a diamond. Easy.
Your first draft is to your book like the bolt of cloth is to your wedding dress. The substance is the same. The form is not. The cutting is about to begin, and it’s gonna hurt.
Your Grandmother’s favorite quote? Your brilliant soliloquy about transcending loneliness? Your riveting five pages description of your protagonist?
“You have to kill your darlings.” they said.
That sucks, but you do.
Gone is the stream of consciousness in which you built the action. Your protagonist, looking like a super-hero from the beginning to the end, doing weighted squats while saving a puppy with his right hand, making Crepes Suzette with his left, and playing Rachmaninov on the harmonica? Gone. Your superior self looking at the world below you with benign tolerance? Gone.
You job is to rub dirt into their face and break their teeth. Even worse. Remove one eye? Give them Erectile Dysfunction? ? Put them in a wheel-chair and see if they can still function? Or not. The chances should be at most a 50–50. The lower the better. Your hero must suffer. A lot. They need to get maimed and damaged. They may even have to die.
That’s about as easy as getting your children into MMA before they start walking. Just think: “They’ll make it — or they won’t.” About as easy as amputating a limb and feeding it to the rats, just less appealing.
You go through the motions. You harm your hero. You flog them. You beat them into a pulp. You’re depressed and angry and hurting — but now you have a book.
You need an editor. A fresh, objective eye looking at your stuff. Not cheap.
You spring for it. You spend a month’s food budget — you needed to lose weight anyhow— and send your book out.
They’ll love it — you know it. You have the next Great American Novel. The big publishing houses will bid for it. They’ll fall on their knees, begging you to pick them.
These are real comments from my editor. As you may notice, his excitement was easily contained.
“This is much too slow starting for a modern mainstream thriller. Fifty pages in, you are only beginning to get the main plot off the ground, and we only have rudimentary hints of any danger or threatening situation. That needs to change.”
Five more pages of this, building to a crescendo of discontent.
“Good luck. You have already put a lot of time into this, so don’t give up now. With some more time and effort on your part, you could have a professional, marketable book on your hands. Make this book a riveting page-turner.”
I’d thought I had a book. I was mistaken.
It hurt. I tried to convince myself that he was stupid — he wasn’t — or biased — nope.
I becalmed myself by thinking that he just failed to understand the grandeur of my book, the likes of which he’d never seen before.
I bit my tongue. I knew he was right. I needed to make changes.
I’m invested in my book. I’m in love with my characters. They are my children, born out of my heart and brain, just as much as the one born of my blood.
Being tough to your children isn’t easy. It’s necessary.
I chose tough love. I carved my book. I threw away pieces I’d worked on for weeks. I reconstructed it to make it closer to the thriller my editor was looking for.
I won’t send it back for a second edit. I can’t. I’d rather euthanize it.
I may have to.
I’m struggling through my sixth draft, shivering at the looming deadline. Good or bad, I have to make it happen. Or quit.
See you soon . Check out: “My first book — The joy of writing.
Coming soon, at a Medium near you: The joy of publishing.
Rada Jones MD MBA FACEP is an Emergency Physician in Upstate New York, where winters are long, people are sturdy and geese only speak French. She lives with her husband, Steve, and his deaf, black cat Paxil. Her ER novel, OVERDOSE: An ER Psychological Thriller, is now on preorder on Kindle.
Find more at: RadaJonesMD.com, Instagram: radajonesmd , and Twitter: @jonesrada.