Swoon Author SM Koz's Editing Update: Embrace the Delete Button
I should start by pointing out that I know I’m an oddball when it comes to editing. I actually really enjoy editing, almost as much as writing a first draft. I love that the characters and plot are mostly fleshed out. I love that any changes simply make the story stronger. I love that you see the beginning and the end and just have to tweak things in the middle to make the road between the two more realistic. To me, it’s like baking an elaborate cake. The original draft is 90% of the way there and editing is the sprinkles and piped icing and sugar decorations that take it to the next level to really impress people.
Of course, all those thoughts were from when I self-edited or used a small group of beta readers. Love Me, Love Me Not was the first time I worked with a professional editor. I went into the process excited because I knew my manuscript could be improved and I wanted a professional opinion on how to do it. So, when the editing letter arrived, I opened it immediately and read it with bated breath. Yes, I could make those changes. They, for the most part, made sense. They would definitely improve the story.
I dove into the edits with enthusiasm, checking off each item in the editing letter as I went. It was a long and tedious process as new scenes needed to be added, chapters needed to be rewritten from a different POV, and major plot points needed to be reworked. Still, I forged ahead because I knew edits always made a story stronger, right?
Then, the feedback came. Crap. Most of what I had done didn’t work. Rather than making the story stronger, it gave us less of a unique voice for Brad and competing conflicts, among other issues. What had I done? Where did it all go so terribly wrong?
I knew I needed to do some serious soul searching to try and get Love Me, Love Me Not back on track. Right after I drowned my sorrows in an entire bag of dark chocolate. Once I got myself into a better emotional place, I was able to critically review the first round of editing. The problem was I was so attached to everything I had written, all I did was add new scenes or tweak existing ones, rather than delete anything major. After all, I figured I was 90% of the way there because my original draft was done and I was just editing. The result? A hot mess of a story that wandered, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes on an old, overgrown path that eventually meandered back to the main one but not before taking characters to places I simply didn’t have time to adequately explore.
Luckily, I had probably the most patient editor in the world (thanks, Kat!), and she had faith in me, even after this major stumbling block. So, with her vote of confidence and a plan in place, I decided to embrace the delete button. Actually, I didn’t have to touch delete because I opted to start the manuscript from a blank Word document. Then, I just pulled in the scenes that made sense. For some reason, that seemed less traumatic than highlighting pages upon pages and hitting delete. And, just like that, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. The story was becoming focused and streamlined. The risk Hailey was taking became front and center as minor plot points were left in the never-to-be-touched-again pile of leftover words.
What I learned was I wasn’t 90% of the way there—more like 40%. Yes, that realization was depressing, but it was also liberating. It put me in the right mindset to completely rework what needed to be reworked. Of course, I still needed to add new scenes, but I wasn’t forcing myself into the original construct anymore. With the new document, I had a sense of freedom to take the story in the direction it needed to go.
After all was said and done, I probably wrote 150K words for my 70K-word novel—not exactly efficient, but a good learning experience (though trying at times). The good news is this process not only helped me learn how to better edit, but also how to better write YA romance from the beginning. And, while I may never get 90% of the way there on my first draft, I feel I now have the tools and knowledge I need to get much closer than I did with Love Me, Love Me Not.
If not, there’s always dark chocolate. Lots and lots of dark chocolate!