I tend to write in first person, which can be confusing if there are more than one or two characters. As my editor and I struggled through the first ten chapters, she seemed confused about POV – which character was doing the talking – even though I almost always begin a new chapter when there is a POV change and I try to identify the specific character in the first paragraph of each chapter. At first I had trouble understanding her confusion – why didn’t she get it? I read the material again and wasn’t the slightest bit confused.
In frustration, I re-wrote the entire first ten chapters to try to clarify the POV, although I really didn’t understand why all that work was necessary. Then I had an epiphany. She wasn’t telling me she was confused – she was telling me other readers might be confused. There is a difference. She wasn’t confused at all – she was just telling me the book could be better.
And here’s the good part. I loved the re-write of the first ten chapters. After the re-write, in my opinion, the novel was much better than before. The POV was clearer and the humor sparkled. So, as I approached the remaining 23 chapters, each time I wondered “What is she thinking?” I stopped to change the comment in my mind to, “What can I do to make this passage better?”
In other words, even if it wasn’t exactly clear to me what she wanted (because editor notes can sometimes be cryptic), I knew she was telling me to fix something to make the book better. As a result, I tried to address every in-line change and especially the comments in the margin. She took the time to write those comments, and I didn’t want to leave a single one behind.
I sent the first iteration back to her last week. The novel is far better than before the edit cycle. There is more show vs. tell, and much more humor. The books are comedy; humor is important. I can hardly believe how many opportunities I missed to add more laughs when I went through the story the first ten times.
As I reflect on the experience, I am humbled by my editor's ability to see problems in my writing that I’m not sure, even now, I could have seen myself. I had the same editor for my last book, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! I thought she was terrific then, but this time she has been even more instructive. One might think I would start to get it after eight novels and one short story, but no. It’s clear I still have a lot to learn, and the most important lesson is probably this: don’t argue with your editor. If she tells you something should be fixed, don’t question, just do it.
James L. Hatch