Zipping It Closed

I love writing—which is lucky for me as I’ve written (and co-written) eleven novels, eight novellas, and too many short stories to count over the past five years. I’ve also had to revise and then edit all of those books, and that’s the part I don’t love.

Over time, I’ve incorporated revision into my process. Rather than try to get it right first time, I’m now much more likely to write a book to the end and fix it later. I revise and self-edit every manuscript several times before submitting it—and that’s when the real fun starts. (Not.)

Developmental edit letters always seem to land in my inbox with an echoing thump heard across three counties, and I can never read one without feeling ill. It’s a totally physical sensation, too. My blood pounds at my temples, my skin burns, and my stomach clenches. Checking my inbox while I wait for one of these letters feels about the same as a visit to Goodreads—a horrible seesaw of doubt, elation, and horror. If I ever give up writing (and I consider it more often than is probably sane), it will probably be to save myself the stress I attach to editing.

I respect the editing process. It’s an absolutely necessary part of writing, and I appreciate the skills of my editors. I couldn’t do what I do without them. The rub, for me, is that I take edit suggestions as evidence of failure on my part to produce a perfect product. Ridiculous, I know. But I’m the kid who unraveled an entire craft project in sixth grade because it didn’t look good enough. Who would rather not submit a term paper in college and take the fail than hand in something I felt didn’t work. (Yep.)

So, obviously, publishing is probably not my ideal gig. But I do love writing—so much. I can’t imagine not telling my stories. I live and breathe them, even when I’m not actively working on them.

I just finished working on the developmental edits for Chasing Forever, the third in my upcoming series, and a curious thing happened. The issue with Brian’s book, which my editor said was already very strong (phew), was that Brian’s character arc was a little fractured. I had him focused on one thing in the first half of the book and another thing in the second half. The fix was deceptively simple. I had to combine these two episodes so that the book felt more cohesive, all while strengthening Mal’s arc so that Brian didn’t overshadow him. Basically, I had to add stuff. Rework a few scenes. Tie a few episodes together in a more purposeful manner. So I loaded the book onto my Kindle and read it, noting places along the way where I could implement these proposed changes.

Then I opened the document and actioned the notes I’d made.

But first, let me tell you about my physical reaction to the developmental edit letter for Chasing Forever. I was on vacation when it landed in my inbox (the thump echoing across three counties) and so I decided to ignore it. Who wants to feel ill while on vacation?

I read the letter the day I got home, expecting to start feeling sick at any moment, and was surprised by the contents. Yes, the book needed work, but not as much as I had feared. The manuscript wasn’t the complete mess I’d thought it was. In fact, it was apparently “already very strong.” How about that? Then I read the book, and… it was strong. I could see the problems, but the stuff surrounding them? Really good.

If you’re not a writer, trust me when I say that reading your own work and thinking it’s pretty good is… weird. I don’t think all my books are terrible. I sort of go through phases with them. I love them, I hate them, I love them, I hate them, I love them, and then I let go and pretty much never want to see them again. A year or so later I develop a sort of pleasant nostalgia for most of them. ❤

So, anyway, I’ve spent the past four days adding and subtracting, working my notes into the manuscript, and yesterday the curious thing happened. There’s a pivotal scene in the middle of the book and it’s this scene I needed to make work. I couldn’t cut it, it needs to be there. So I had to edit the book around it… and that’s what I did. I added more support for the scene throughout the first half, tying together elements that already existed but weren’t leaning on each other in the way they could and should have been. Then I got to the BIG SCENE and made a couple of changes to reflect the edits, and I physically felt the book zip together. I heard the sound. It was as though, in my mind, I could see the two halves stand up, align their interlocking tabs, and close.

It was pretty cool. I immediately went to report the sensation to my husband who nodded, made affirmative sounds, and then ruined it all by saying, “Told you! This is going to be the book!” He thought I was talking about the other book, the one that’s already all but published. The one I keep getting very flattering advance reviews for. Sigh. He does make all the right sounds, though.

So I decided to write this post because this is a huge thing for me. I enjoyed editing this book. Not at the beginning, when all I could picture was the work that needed doing and the hours I’d have to spend bent over the laptop, moving words this way and that. But in that zipping moment, a joy I’ve not experienced before swished through me and carried me toward the end of the book. I finished the rest of my edits, confident that I was doing the right thing.

I have enjoyed seeing a book come together before. A part of my respect for the editing process comes from seeing my books strengthen and shine. But I do have a theory as to why everything finally clicked with Chasing Forever. Why it felt more complete this time.

Last year, I wrote five books. This year, I had to edit four of them. I do not recommend working this way, but I think that despite the mental fatigue that has me wondering if I’ll ever write again (threat of incoming developmental edit letters aside), having edited four books in a row (I’ve been in edits since March this year)—from developmental changes, all the way through extensive line edits, copy edits, and proofreading—I’ve had enough practice to be able to approach my edits with a healthier mindset. Or maybe I’m just exhausted.

But I did notice the same thing when it came time to write that fifth book. This book, Chasing Forever. I was exhausted. But I followed my process. I built my world, worked up my character arcs, and plotted an outline. Then I started writing and didn’t stop until I typed “The End.”

Writing is an extremely emotional experience for me. I laugh and cry with my characters. I live their stories while I’m writing them. Editing has always been harder. I don’t know if it’s because it’s more of a mental than emotional exercise, or simply me laboring under the impression that I somehow failed the first time around. But now that I’ve heard the zip and felt it close, I’m hoping that it will be easier next time around. I know that it’s next to impossible to write a perfect book. Editing will always be necessary. Approaching that phase with joy rather than fear would be a nice change, though.

(Wondering about the image at the top of this post? Me too! I found it on Canva while looking for zips and became beguiled.)

3 comments

  1. Kelly,

    We laugh and cry with your characters too! You bring them to life and we live their stories right with them. Thank you for all the writing and editing you do. It definitely comes through in the final product!

    Diane

  2. Reblogged this on robin maderich and commented:
    My friend and fellow writer posted this blog (ten days ago–shows how behind I am, in everything!) Kelly has written a great post (as always), personal and informative and entertaining. Hope you enjoy it, as well.

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