Working With an Editor

In my last blog, I mentioned being conflicted about absorbing serious notes on my current novel. Never before was I faced with having to completely reconceive my work, to step back from it and see it as an almost different form. I have done so now, and I am glad I did.

Always before, I had a very vague notion of what an editor does. I have heard them speak at conferences; I have seen countless books dedicated to the editors who worked on them. But as a writer, I have never understood what an editor’s job actually entails. I probably still don’t, at least not completely. But I know more than I did two weeks ago.

An editor takes a novel, one that is fine as it is, but then she says, “This novel is fine, but it could be better.” Then she proceeds to tell the writer how this other novel, the one that only the editor can see, could be born. She does not give ultimatums, but she offers comments, ideas that take the writer down roads that she might never have traveled alone.

I was one of these writers, who was asked to absorb major changes in the conception of my novel. At first, I was horrified. How could I turn my back on the work I had done over the course of two years, and take another road? The answer: I did not turn my back on what already was. I had to absorb what I had already done, accept both its beauty and its limitations, and be willing to look at it again.

This sounds easier than it is. My problem was that I wanted to treat my novel as my child, and not a work of art. I wanted to say, “No, this child is perfect. I could not improve it if I tried.” Obviously, this statement is false. My book is not a child. It is a product of my mind, and my characters’ input. There is very little that can not be improved on.

So I sat with the editor’s comments, sent via email through my agent, and I thought. I did not try to work on the ideas, but let them seep into my brain. I sat still, and waited to see if a new conception of my novel would come to me.

And it did. A character I never would have thought to turn to, stepped forward and said, “Let me add my story to the one you are already telling.”

When I met with the editor, we had the same thoughts. The book, as I now believe it was always meant to be born, came to both of us separately. It only came to me after I sat still, put my original ideas aside, and let it come. I had to get out of my own way. I had to step back, to step aside, taking my ego with me, and allow the book as it can be, as it should be, come forth and speak. Only when I took the leap of saying, “I could be wrong. Let me consider this,” only then did the second character come forward, and volunteer to give me the other half of my novel, the half that makes my original concept whole.
I have lost nothing of the original concept. If anything, adding the point of view of the second character has only helped me to know Alais better. Of course, not any character would have done this. It takes a great woman to add to a novel that is already fully formed. Fortunately, the character who stepped forward, and offered her side of the story, is a character worth hearing from on any level, and under any circumstances: Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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