When your editor suggests surgery …

After I sent my manuscript to my editor, I received an email from her indicating I should be patient in waiting for her feedback. Less than a week later, I received another email from her. She said though she had planned to work on my book in spurts, fitting it in with other work, once she started reading, she found it hard to stop. That’s good, right?

I opened the attached file and scrolled through. She noted a few places she felt needed clarification or enhancement. She questioned a thing or two. She also found many errant commas, absent quotes, and those tiny missing words that your eye fills in when you read: a, in, of, etc. As I neared the end, I thought, That’s all? Great! Piece of cake edit ahead of me.

But then …

At the end, she’d written a long note. She declared Parts I and II a go. What about Part III? Bottom line—she suggested I cut. CUT!!! Not the whole thing, of course. But, but, but, I thought, I’ve never had to cut before! Well, yeah, maybe a sentence or two. But this was nearly 2,500 words she wanted me to surgically remove!!! Ten pages!!!!!

So, yeah, I freaked.

While I tried to get oxygen flowing to my brain again, the phrase “kill your darlings” swam before my eyes. But when I I could think again, I realized this wasn’t a darling she had told me to cut. It was more an acquaintance. To be honest, I was never 100% sure of that part myself. When I thought about it more, I remembered that a former version of this section was the only one my critique group had ever uniformly given a thumbs down.

She cited solid reasons why this section should go. It delayed the resolution readers would be hungry for at that point in the book. And, probably, this section featured one rejection too many and might turn readers against one of the characters. How can I argue against that?

I’m sad to lose a few lines and images from that section, but it’s history. Now, I just have to put my writer/surgeon hat on and suture that wound.


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27 thoughts on “When your editor suggests surgery …

  1. Every time I read a nice comment about my Sweetie novel, i thank thank THANK my lucky stars that I deleted three to four chapters in the beginning and two chapters at the end —completely deleted, not re-written – thousands of words- because it changed the feel and energy of the entire novel AND opened up the way for something I’d not “seen” until I did that.

    I didn’t want to delete them at first – I thought they were necessary, needed – but something kept bugging me – then my editor at bellebooks something- and I knew my own instincts were right on.

    Sometimes doing that surgery elevates our work, makes it stronger, and/or allows us freedom to find something hidden that was meant to be!

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  2. This is why editors are so crucial, they can see things we writers ignore in our love affair with our story, characters, phrasing. It sounds like you have a good one, bless her!

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  3. Who is your editor and how to I get one just like her. There is nothing more valuable than good honest feedback.
    Glad to hear you’re getting everything polished and shiny. I can’t wait to read it.

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  4. This is great! A critique that led to such a positive edit!! How wonderful!!
    Linda, how did you go about finding your editor (if you feel up to discussing it) ?

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  5. The most fascinating part of critique partner and editorial feedback is this: “To be honest, I was never 100% sure of that part myself.”

    About 80-90% of the editorial suggestions I receive I already instinctively know, but resist, for a variety of reasons.

    I think the editor helps you listen to that voice that wants to tell your story in the best way. I’m confident the surgery will be successful.

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    1. I wish I could say the same about my inner voice, Cathryn. Usually, I go to critique group expecting to get negative feedback on one thing, but they bring up something else! But I think I resisted their earlier concern about this part because I had fun writing it. But there was some “experimental” formatting in part and technical stuff I wasn’t sure about, but most of all I had the nagging feeling I was prolonging the agony for my characters, like my editor said. That’s the doubt I should have listened to. I think the surgery will be successful too. 🙂

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  6. The bloody key image is so appropriate. That truly is what it feels like when a big “hack and whack” is suggested. Feeling your initial pain at “killing the darlings.” Glad you put it in perspective and went with the advice. Critique, revision and change…all part of the process for us writers. I know it will be great when you are done!

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  7. What comes to mind is a lesson from the Jack Shephard School of Not Freaking Out During Surgery—remember what he told Kate when they first crashed on the Island? Just count to five. 🙂 You’ll have the surgery done in no time, I’m sure.

    (Can you tell I’m going through LOST withdrawals?)
    (Also: I’m proud of your decision to go with that. Like I said before, I definitely agree with your editor that it will make the novel stronger!) 🙂

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    1. Lost withdrawal, yes, Kayla. I just wish I could view the finale as you did, because now I find it hard to watch anything previous to that and care. That’s not to say I couldn’t still enjoy some aspects. 😉

      Yes, that’s about what I did when I first read her advice–count to five. Then I could see the truth in what she said. Unfortunately, I’ve been occupied with REAL life since then and haven’t been about to sit down and write a new scene. But I’ve been listening to the writer in my head work things out. 🙂

      It means a lot to have your support on this change. You know how I always second guess myself.

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  8. I’m cracking up at your graphic images. Sometimes it does feel like bloody business, cutting pages, but sometimes it feels like a fantastic haircut, you walk away feel like a better version of you, who is also carrying around less weight.

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  9. Linda, this is Deja Vue! The editor of my debut novel was ruthless. In the margins it said, “What’s the point?,” “This is chatter,” “Cut,” “Boring,” etc.
    “But,” I said, “this belongs to the story, doesn’t it?”
    Well, I took his advice and slashed whole chapters and parts of chapters. And, just as with you, it was the places I felt unsure about he objected to. It was a great learning experience. After I cut those “precious” parts, the story improved tremendously and I didn’t miss a single one of them.
    Good luck, Linda!
    Christa

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    1. Thank you, V.V. I cut and sutured and sent it back to my editor for her input. Btw, I’ve changed my mind about my next post. My editor is someone I’m fortunate to know in real life and since she’s not editing professionally at this time, she would prefer to remain anonymous.

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      1. I understand completely. BUT could you tell us your editor search-and-find story anyway? Leaving out the identifiable details? The thought of finally having an editor thrills me, and I’d love to read any tidbits you could offer.

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