I got a letter from my novel today. Seriously. I opened my email inbox, and there it was. It’s eerie, because I was just reflecting back on Roxanne’s writer report card post.
Apparently my novel wanted some input on my assessment because this is what the letter said:
“I'm dying here, and it's all your fault. I know you can see all my flaws. Everyone can. My dialogue is too chunky. My theme is myopic. My characters are too flat.
“Oh, I know you loved me once. Once upon a time, we stayed up late into the night musing on philosophical connotations and thematic elements. There was a time you could love me in spite of my flaws. Those times are past. Because I'll never get anywhere in the world unless I undergo major surgery.
“The surgery is going to be painful. Liposuctioning exposition and undergoing characterplasty are difficult and expensive, costing time and energy. It's not like writing, where you get to work on a blank slate, build me up from nothing. Cutting me down is probably like cutting yourself apart. And it takes so much longer than mere writing ever could.
“Wouldn't it be better if I just languished in a desk drawer? Because after all, that way no one else will ever see my flaws. You'll be the only one who knows that I'm imperfect. I can't possibly be worth it. It's just too hard.
“Unless you think I'm worth the effort. Unless you think there are some gems between my fat, word-padded pages that need to be polished and allowed to shine. Maybe there's someone out there who could benefit from reading me. Maybe, just maybe, I still mean something to you.
“So, what are we going to do?
“If I could give you my advice, I'd tell you to read every word of me carefully, with pen in hand, and make notes on every page, both good and bad. Tell me where a sentence needs to be made clearer. Make a note of where I contradict myself, and don't let me get away with it. Remind me of that paragraph which was one of the reasons why you loved me in the first place. Build me up by cutting me down. Every mark, every star, every heart, every scribbled, crossed out line, every single one tells me that you care about my future.
“Then sit down at the desk and read me again, notes in hand. Change things. Rip out whole chapters, I can take it. And what about that section where the plot needs to completely change? I know it'll take stitching and sewing and rewriting, but we can get through it together.
“It'll be painful for both of us. Do you care enough about me to even try? Like all relationships, this one takes time and effort to foster, or we'll drift apart. But maybe you'll decide that I'm important enough. Maybe you'll realize that I am worth the time and effort.
“Maybe you'll realize that you are, too.
"I'm waiting for you.”
Okay, so this note was in my email today, but I think we all know my novel didn’t write it. It was actually a post-NaNoWriMo pep talk written by YA author Anna Sheehan from the point of view of my novel. I pared it down a bit for the sake of this blog post, but the original message is still clear: it’s not enough to write. We must be willing to spend time and energy editing, and we must be willing to be honest with ourselves about our writing. The only way those manuscripts can make it to publication is if we care enough about them (and the message they contain) to make the hard choices. “Build me up by cutting me down.”
Your novel is worth it.
And so are you.
~Heidi Larson Geis
Your turn: How does editing make you feel? Do you have a novel (or two, or five) collecting dust somewhere that just needs a second look and some love (and maybe a little characterplasty) to be something great? Do you have any secrets or tips to make the editing process a little easier and less painful?