Swoon Author Kristen Orlando: Writing Is Hard, But Editing Is Harder
Resilience. Some people are just born with that bounce-back-from-anything-all-is-good-with-the-world-no-big-deal attitude. But some of us (*cough* me) are forced to push away that knee-jerk reaction to come unglued, dig down deep and find it. Resilience can be a superpower. And I found mine in the middle of the night in Palermo, Sicily.
I was 20 years old and studying abroad at the University of Exeter in England. I’d scheduled all my classes to be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (thank you to the British University system for embracing the 3-hour seminar) so I could have a five-day weekend to travel as often as possible. It was 2:30 a.m. I was in the middle of a nearly deserted Palermo airport with no bags (they were lost!), no hotel or hostel (we were supposed to be in a totally different part of Sicily!), no taxis and a little bit of money. In that moment, I had two choices: I could totally freak out and break down into tears. Or I could take a breath and figure it out.
That year (and that chaotic travel day in particular) taught me so much. You miss a train? It’s okay. There will be another one. Your bags end up in a different part of the country? Make friends at the airport. They’ll help you find them. Your hostel has no running hot water? Bird bath it for a day or two. You might stink but you’ll survive.
In life, things go wrong. Constantly. Living abroad was one of the best and hardest years of my life. But the greatest thing I took away from it was that fall-down-get-back-up attitude; something that has helped me tremendously in the editing process. Because here’s what might happen while editing a book:
1. You have to cut. A lot.
I think I sat in dead silence at our conference table in the Flatiron building (Swoon headquarters!) for a good twenty seconds when Kat and Lauren (who are the most fabulous and insightful editors ever) suggested we time jump six months in You Won't Know I'm Gone. I’d originally written the first draft to take place just days after You Don't Know My Name ends. Months of work. Thousands of words. I literally highlighted about one hundred Microsoft Word pages and tried not to hyperventilate as my finger hovered over the delete button. But I knew they were right. The book was dragging. My characters were treading water and killing time waiting to reach the Black Angel Qualifiers. We had to get to the action so much faster. So I took a breath, closed my eyes and hit delete.
2. You might lose characters you love.
In the first draft, Reagan visits another Black Angel compound in London. I had created two teen British spies that I LOVED so much. I gave them great back stories and fun and interesting personalities and there I was… losing them forever. But they didn’t advance the plot. They didn’t add anything to Reagan’s journey. So despite the pages of fun dialogue and training sequences: Delete. Delete. Delete.
3. You may have to rewrite really fast.
The rewrite on You Won't Know I'm Gone was hefty (remember those 100 pages I cut? I still had to fill those!) and not only did I have an editorial deadline, I had a major life deadline! I was about to have my first baby and I knew I wanted to get this book as close to perfect before she arrived. I was actually thankful for the 3 a.m. bathroom wake-ups. Many nights I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep (thanks to a tiny human punching me in the ribs) and I found myself up and writing in the middle of the night. I think during the month of December I wrote/edited every single day except for Christmas. I even found myself writing by the twinkling tree on Christmas Eve. But I wanted to hit my deadline and be able to get ready for our sweet little lady.
Writing is hard. Editing is even harder. And without resilience, it can make you want to curl up into a ball, hide under the covers and eat fistfuls of Cheetos while you ugly cry. But I trusted in the Swoon team completely (guys, they really are the BEST). I knew that while the edits were sometimes painful, they were completely necessary and would only make the book better.
I’m extremely thankful for the day that I was left stranded at that airport in Sicily with just the clothes on my back and a passport. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I think back to that girl and what she did. I put on my resilience cape, take a breath and whisper “you’ve got this.” Then I keep on going.