Swoon Author Claire Kann's Editing Update: Let's Talk About... Revisions*
*Yes, I am totally going to get as much mileage out of my title as humanly possible.
But more than that, I want to talk about doubt and collaboration.
I’ve been in the Swoon game since 2013. I remember the blog post announcing Sandy Hall’s A Little Something Different being selected as the first Swoon Reads book and the subsequent selections. I remember dozens of manuscripts that are no longer on the site. And I remember reading (and re-reading) the Editing Update posts on the Swoon Blog.
Armed with that knowledge, I knew how edits would proceed and how much work I would have ahead of me. When I got my first edit letter from the marvelous Kat Brzozowski, I was expecting pages and pages (and pages!) of notes, plot changes, suggestions to delete characters and re-examine character motivations for continuity, requests for a new ending—the works.
That’s not what happened.
Everything went great! Fantastic! My edit letter was short, concise, insightful and zeroed in on the areas that I personally knew were lacking and gave fabulous suggestions to improve them. The goal was to improve and enhance, not destroy and rebuild. I knocked out my edits and met my deadline.
My second edit letter was similar to the first… and I was not expecting that.
Right before starting the second round of edits, doubt slammed into me like a starving fishing eagle. There I was, swimming along, minding my own fishy business, happy as can be—next thing I knew, talons pierced my sides, ripping me out of my sea of comfort into a whole new sky world of panic and crippling terror.
The standard writerly doubt refrains began to play: You are not good enough. What were you thinking—you’re not a writer, you two-bit hack. This story is awful. Give up now. Pack it in, call it a day, get a new hobby. And then anxiety decided to jump in with the remix: What gives you the right to tell this story? Is this story going to hurt ace readers? Is Alice too Black? Not Black enough? You’re never going to get Takumi’s rep right. Why is this such a problematic garbage fire? Readers are going to drag this story from here to eternity—how dare you.
I didn’t know which way was up, how to get back down, or if I would emotionally survive publishing my book. I couldn’t breathe let alone think of how to fix it.
I realized all of those expectations I had for my first edit letter were mine. I felt that way because deep down, I was not happy with the story I had written. I loved my characters, their personalities and the way they interacted with each other, but I think I inherently knew the story/plot was all wrong.
Initially, I was terrified to tell Kat I was unhappy. Swoon wouldn’t have selected my story if they didn’t love it. How was I supposed to tell them that I wanted to change almost everything? How would they take it? What would they say?
Several hysterical emails from me, supportive and astute responses from Kat, and a few phone calls later, we had a plan. Kat was patient, listened, and never once responded to my ideas with a flat out “No.” It was always a supportive, “Go for it and we’ll see if it works. You can do this!” To quote the infamous YA line, “I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding.”
However, a plan did not a manuscript make. Writing with an audience in mind can be both reaffirming and debilitating. What story did I need to tell? What did I want to say in this book? Kat helped me realize that the most I could do was my best, hope that it connected with someone else, and learn to be okay with the fact that it might not.
So, I sat down with a blank word document and held an Oprah-style interview with my main character, Alice. Together, we peeled back the layers of the story I had so lovingly crafted the year before, took a good, hard look at those exposed bones. And what do you know, there was her story—the real one, covered in my fingerprints, but still waiting, hopeful and desperate.
It took me weeks of sitting on the idea, drafting new plot lines and scenes only for them to be cut, (and living through a presidential election I’d rather forget), for me to finally get to a place where I could realize something: this wasn’t a revision. It was a draft. I was rewriting my manuscript into the story that needed to be told. I felt like I’d been skinned raw, my underbelly slit open, flailing in pain and suffering through a kind of hurt I didn’t know existed.
Through it all, Kat was right there saying, “This is your book. I want you to be happy. How can I best support you?”
For me, writing had always been a solo activity. Editing, thank the Gods, didn’t have to be. I finished and revised (several times over with more of Kat’s invaluable guidance) what is essentially a completely new book because I had Kat in my corner believing in me and my work. The version of Let’s Talk About Love that exists now underwent an extreme makeover but has the same bones as the first with one key difference. Now, Kat is imprinted on those bones too.
Until next time,