Swoon Author Melinda Grace's Editing Update: That Time I Thought Editing Was Easy... It Totally Wasn't
Editing, for me, was akin to when I first learned how to play Sudoku. I was a camp counselor at the time and my 7th and 8th grade campers taught me how to play. They would pick easy puzzles for me to try and then check my work at the end. As an early 20-something I had no shame in presenting a twelve-year-old with what I thought was my best work. Except for the first dozen puzzles there was always something wrong. A number repeated in a line or box somewhere that I hadn’t noticed. The camper would point out my mistake, give me some advice, and send me on my way to erase my work and start over. This happened again and again until I got the hang of the game. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t understand how the puzzle worked, it was more so I thought my “method of solving” was better than theirs. Spoiler: It wasn’t.
Editing Meet Me in Outer Space has felt a lot like this. I handed Swoon Reads my best work and Emily Settle, my editor extraordinaire, handed it back to me with the repeated numbers pointed out. Showed me my mistakes. Made suggestions on my methods… and at one point had me erase my work and start over. Of course, this all came in the form of several editorial letters, emails, my manuscript full of comments from both Lauren and Kat, and a face-to-face meeting.
Unlike with Sudoku, I struggled to see their “method of solving” and resisted the changes that had been suggested. I was confused and disheartened and overcome with a sense of failure. Obviously, my book wasn’t a failure. And my confusion and sense of dejection were quickly remedied by both Lauren and Emily, who swooped in immediately to pick me up off the floor, dust me off, and remind me why my book was chosen, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a time where I questioned the authenticity of my book. Of my #OwnVoice.
At one point I had to walk away from MMIOS and ask myself what I wanted this book to be. Who I wanted Edie, my main character, to be. I wanted to stay true to the message of the book. I wanted to create a harmony of my experiences and those of the people I interviewed. I wanted to do it justice. I wanted Edie to be more than her disability, but I wanted it to be realistic. Sometimes realistic can be ugly, realistic can be unpleasant and not fun to read, and make you uncomfortable. I wanted to challenge the reader to think, but I didn’t want to insult them. I didn’t want to offend. So, just like the 20-something version of me learning to solve a silly puzzle, I took their sage advice, erased, and started again.
One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I started doing Sudoku was to use a pencil. Years later, I was doing a puzzle in pen and someone commented on how “brave” I was. Indeed. Committing to pen is brave.
MMIOS was never written in pen. It was always written in pencil and because of this, I was able to take a deep breath and be reminded that none of this was in pen. That editing is a pencil only task.
Erasing is hard and messy and discouraging. But erasing also provides an opportunity to recreate, to improve, to build and grow and perfect. MMIOS has grown. It is new and improved, but still has the same heart as the draft I submitted to the website two years ago. The landscape may have changed, but the path remains the same.
Editing was so easy until it wasn’t, just like the first Sudoku puzzle I tried. I zipped through it, handed it to one of my campers only to get laughter in return. I thought I knew what I was doing, that my way was the best way, but I hadn’t done the puzzle correctly and as soon as my mistakes were pointed out to me, it was clear where I had gone wrong. Just like with MMIOS, pulling back the curtain and showing me what needed work changed my perspective on the entire process.
MMIOS needed that, it truly did.
So, while committing to pen might seem brave to some, to me, putting my words down in pencil is brave. Knowing that I will have to erase is scary, but doing it anyway is brave.