‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…’ – Michael Crichton.
This is enough to make most writers reel in horror. ‘You mean I’m not done yet?!” they cry. “But I’ve been writing this for (insert inordinately high number here) years!”
But, sadly it seems to be a universal truth. I’ve talked in my previous blogs about how much first drafts suck. Because they do, they suck like a breastfeeding octopus. And this is not just the case for new, untrained writers—it is true of all authors, as you can see from the quote above. If there is an author anywhere who published a first draft as it stood, I will eat the 56 copies of my first manuscript that I have laying about the house* (some of those are on thumb drives, too, which can’t be great for my insides—so you can see how serious I am about making my point).
My first book The Enemy Inside is currently on its 8th incarnation (including a title change), and it hasn’t even been published yet! When I think about what my publisher will want to do to it ON TOP of what I’ve already done, I shudder and reach for the gin.
But I can also appreciate the process. The draft I am working with now with my agent is entirely different to the first draft I sent to a manuscript appraisal service five years ago (thank god that crappy draft didn’t go anywhere important!). Characters are more three-dimensional, plots lines are fleshed out, sub-plots appeared and the ending is different. And each appraiser/editor/agent that has got their hands on it has made it a bit better (ok, a lot better).
Of course, there is something you need to maintain during the editing process—artistic integrity. I have not taken on all the suggestions made by agents/editors, because some of them were not in keeping with my vision for my characters, and some of them were just plain dumb (don’t you love how some editors give it a cursory glance and then think they know your characters better than you do?? Bitches—please!). I had two Australian publishers try and get me to change the setting of The Enemy Inside to Australia, which I would not because it didn’t feel it was true to the work. Of course, they didn’t sign me, but I am comfortable with my decision. (Really, I am. I don’t cry myself to sleep at night at all—why, what have you heard?).
We all know that we writers can be a weensy bit precious when it comes to our babies. Like the mother of a newborn with scarily big ears, we do not see the imperfections in the work. We see helpful critique as criticism, and we do not like criticism, we take it very personally (about as personally as telling a mother that her baby has big ears—don’t ever do that).
So be prepared. The editing process is long, drawn out and painful. But worth it in the end, I think. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I redraft my second manuscript, Broken, for the third fucking time.
*Promise does not include self-published manuscripts; I’m not a complete idiot.