Do you often say things as quickly as they pop into your head? Offend people without intending to because it never occurred to you not to be honest? Do you point at the pink elephant in the room when almost everyone else would rather skirt around it? Don’t feel bad; me too. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just means we will be incredibly bad at editing our own writing.
I like to believe I’ve got a good eye, and a good ear for what’s necessary to round out the arc of a story, and I’m sure that’s probably true. But only if the story is not my own. For the self-published, this is a challenge. Chances are, you’ve already decided that the traditional publishing house is not a meritocracy, and that the forces of capitalism are just as likely to be making decisions at Random House as are the literary gods. So given that, why not run your own show? Write and publish your own work, and while you’re at it, edit it as well. Well, I’m suggesting that that last step, self-editing, is like the road to hell – paved with good intentions and will lead you to a very, very uncomfortable place.
Far worse than having someone separate you from your words, is having them heard-or read-and completely misconstrued.
Every novel I’ve ever written-and there have been a few- is at least 400 pages long. At least. Most include, in my view, about one hundred pages of absolutely essential character development. But what the hell do I know? What I likely have in those many, many pages is on average about 250 pages of worthwhile material and another 150 pages of sludge. That’s why much of this work has yet to see the light of day, and I’ve decided, after agonizing for months, to enlist the services of a professional editor.
Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s going to hurt. Having someone look at a paragraph I worked on for over an hour, which I happen to think is filled with profundities, and tell me that it “doesn’t add anything to the story” is going to be like a dagger through the breastbone. For them to read several pages and then look at me in confusion, telling me they “don’t get it” will keep me up all night (or several). But I think it’s necessary pain. If you’re like me, you write because you have to, but you also write to be read, and to be understood. So I’m bidding farewell to self-editing, handing my babies over to the care of another, crossing my fingers, saying a prayer, and hoping they will believe them as beautiful as I do . . .