Swoon Author Kristen Orlando's Editing Update: Learning from Past Experience
Writing my second book You Won't Know I'm Gone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s not quite up there with giving birth (something I did in the middle of editing my second book), but it’s in the team picture, for sure. There were so many factors that made Book 2 so difficult. The book was incredibly dark and sad, which made me dark and sad! Plus, imposter syndrome was creeping up on me. There was a mean girl who lived permanently in my head who told me on a daily basis that I wasn’t good enough. That my writing sucked. That Macmillan was going to pull my contract and not even publish the rest of the trilogy! Think of any writing insult and the mean girl in my head probably whispered it to me. You Won't Know I'm Gone was the second book I’d really ever written. I didn’t have practice manuscripts sitting in my computer. So… I kind of didn’t know what I was doing.
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When I went to the Flatiron building for an editorial meeting on You Won't Know I'm Gone, I found out there was so much that needed to be cut. The plot wasn’t moving, the characters were just treading water and killing time to get to the action. When Kat and Lauren suggested a six-month time jump, I think it was a good sixty seconds before I began breathing again. On the outside, I was nodding. On the inside, I looked more like this:
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But back to my computer I went where I highlighted the first one hundred pages of the book and hit delete. What followed were exhausting nights of editing at 4:00 am (I was super pregnant and waking up in the middle of the night anyway! So when I couldn’t go back to sleep, I’d waddle off to my office to type). As painful as that edit was, they were 100% right. I learned so much from editing You Won't Know I'm Gone—valuable lessons that I took with me while I wrote and edited You Won't See Me Coming. And I have to say, the edit on You Won't See Me Coming was a breeze in comparison to my sophomore slump of a second book. So here are the takeaways that I now apply to every draft, from the first to the final:
1.) Clear Outlines: Outlines aren’t for everyone, but for me, they are vital. When it came to writing the third book, I made sure I had a very clear chapter-by-chapter outline that was approved by Kat. Even when we got to the edit stage, I edited the first outline to add in new content or new edits in different colored fonts. Having a clear map helped me see what needed to be tweaked and where brand new chapters were needed. With a color-coded outline in hand, I was able to focus on what type of writing day I was going to have and what I needed to do to mentally get myself into the correct writing headspace.
2.) Pick Up the Pace: Pacing is so key to any story, from a spy thriller like mine to a contemporary love story. When I was writing and editing You Won't See Me Coming, I continuously asked myself, does this conversation move us forward in the plot? Does this bit of description add to the story or tell us something important about the character? If not, it has to go.
3.) Give Your Characters Agency: In the first draft of You Won't See Me Coming, I was not giving Reagan the chance to be the true kick-ass heroine that she is, and that was a super important note from Kat. So moving forward, I will always ask myself, "Did I give my character agency? Are they in control of their destiny?" You cannot let your main character just sit idly by and wait for something to happen. A brilliant spy like Reagan makes things happen herself.
I have been so privileged to write books with the talented team at Swoon. It has been so fun and incredibly rewarding to learn from Holly, Kat, Lauren, and Jean. They gave me a crash course in novel writing and I cannot thank them enough for their guidance and patience with me. I’m one lucky author!