Therese here. Please welcome guest Stacey Ballis to Writer Unboxed! Stacey’s new book, Good Enough to Eat, releases in two days–September 7th. I’ve invited Stacey here today to share thoughts on her process and insights as a multi-published author. It’s a fab post. Enjoy!
The Writing is in the Rewriting
When people, upon finding out that I am a full-time writer, say with an air of reverence “Oh, I could never do that, you have to have such discipline!”, my first response is usually to snort the nearest beverage through my nose.
These people clearly don’t know me at all.
I have no discipline. And my work, which I do truly love more than anything, is also an enormous pain in my butt. I will do almost anything to procrastinate writing. Not blogging, or tweeting, or entering recipe contests, and not the freelance copywriting that is my actual bread-and-butter-pay-the-bills writing…but my “real” writing. The writing I supposedly left my nice comfy secure salaried health-insuranced 401ked 60 hour a week job for. The writing I created a schedule around to ensure many hours a week free to focus. The writing that necessitated the upgrade to the fastest internet service for “research”, which is usually important stuff like watching Literal Videos on YouTube. The writing that was the impetus for the amazing new computer my boyfriend gifted me with to make certain my equipment was up to snuff. Which came loaded with many more versions of Solitaire than my other one, and is much bigger to store whole seasons of Sons of Anarchy and Army Wives in iTunes.
The dumb part is that when I actually knuckle down and start writing, it flows and I am excited to see where the stories go, and how the characters develop. But starting, that is really hard. Almost the hardest part.
Until it is time to edit. And then I just want to shoot myself in the head.
I actually edit a lot as I go, working back a couple of chapters almost every time I sit down to write, sort of priming the pump to then move forward. Halfway through a book I will give the manuscript to my little sister (the only person who sees it besides my editor before it is completed) who will read it and give me notes about what sort of shape it is in and we talk about where it is going. I do a pretty serious edit based on her notes, and then finish the book and send it to my editor. At which point I am so excited to be finished that I do a happy dance and drink pink champagne and start dreaming about the next one.
I always forget about the real editing until the notes arrive a few weeks later.
As much as I believe in edits and rewrites, they are really hard. Often you have to let go of things you love about your story or your characters or say goodbye to paragraphs you think are well crafted. You have to give yourself over to a process that is the opposite of the luxuriously free creative process that created the book, and embrace tedious minutia, questioning every line, every conflict.
My new book GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, which is being released on September 7, is a book I am very very proud of. It is a slightly new direction for me, a book that tackles some hard questions about self, weight and body image issues, turning 40, finding and keeping love, trusting friends. With recipes!
As proud as I am, and as much as I believe it is a good book, the writing was hard and the rewriting was heartbreaking. A whole series of flashbacks throughout the book (which I loved) had to go away. And yes, I believe it was better for the flow of the book, but BOY was it devastating to press delete. Characters changed and went away, the ending was altered. Again, it was what was best for the book, but as an artist, imagine looking at a freshly finished painting and having someone say “Take out all the blue.”. Even if you know in your heart that the painting will be more powerful, more real, have greater impact…losing the blue is really really emotionally debilitating.
For me, the only thing that gets me through is the finish line, and my own commitment to being the best writer I can be. Thinking about how many times I have read a book that felt like it needed one more rewrite to help it achieve its full potential, and was disappointed that the work wasn’t given that chance. Thinking about how much I hope that at some point in my career someone will buy my first two books (currently out of print) and be willing to do one more edit with me on them both before re-releasing them. And so, as much as it pains me, I sit down and knock out those edits as quickly as possible, like ripping off a band-aid. I might procrastinate all over the place during the first draft, which is honestly the fun part, but edits I jump into and work nearly round the clock until they are done.
Here is how I get through:
- I remember that my editor wants the book to be good, and has a perspective I am just too close to the work to be able to have.
- I save every possible draft and version so that after I make a change, even one I don’t fully agree with, I can see it side by side with the original to really see which one is better.
- If I balk against a cut or change, I put it aside and keep moving forward and come back to it the next day to see if it still grates. And if it does, I send that one piece to another writer I trust to see what they say. If I continue to defend the choice for more than 24 hours, I will contact my editor to have her explain better the objective in making that change. If it really continues to feel potentially wrong, I run it by my agent. And if he sides with my editor, I suck it up and make the change. I believe that we have the right to fight for things we truly believe are essential to our work, but as solitary as the initial writing is, books are a collaboration and to pretend otherwise is foolhardy.
- At the end of the day, I try to err on the side of my editor. I have to trust the partnership and believe in the end result. This is easier with some editors than with others, but it is what I try to do. Even if I do get all kinds of snarky about it.
- I never read a book of mine after it is published. To me, I just see things I want to fix or change or put back. Once it is out there in book (or EBook) form it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it belongs to my readers and I can only hope they find it, embrace it, and get what I meant.
Every writer I know longs for the day some editor will get their hands on a manuscript and say “It’s perfect; we’re just going to send it right to line edits!” But I’m pretty sure those piglets aren’t flying quite yet, at least not in my neighborhood. Until they do, I’m just out here breathing through all parts of the journey, and remembering to be grateful to have these problems at all. I have come to embrace my horrible procrastination as part of my process, and to love the push and pull, and enjoy some of the magic that happens when you don’t have time to overthink. And I have come to terms with the rewriting, knowing that however difficult, at the end of the day, I don’t feel any of my work has ever been overedited or diminished along the way. That is really all any of us can ask.
How do you deal with editing or rewriting?