Swoon Author Olivia Hinebaugh's Editing Update: A Fresh Start
Waiting for my first edit letter was really exciting. And nerve-wracking. I often heard authors talking about how overwhelming that first edit letter could be. It’s the first time you’re really going to try and mesh your vision with your editor’s. I worried that we wouldn’t have the same ideas. I worried that I wasn’t up to the task. (Hello, impostor syndrome.)
Opening that first 8-page letter from Holly, I was overwhelmed. I scanned over the whole thing, and my overwhelming thought was: “Oh my gosh, she’s right! She must think I’m terrible, because all those things do need to change. I’m an idiot for writing it that way in the first place.” Not a great thought. Except, it actually was great for two reasons.
- I agreed with everything she was suggesting.
- I knew changing these things that I was suddenly embarrassed about would make the book so much better.
I had heard from writer friends that I should read my letter, and allow myself to digest it, and give it a day or two before I started tackling changes.
I printed out the letter and started numbering each change she suggested. In a separate notebook, I created a checklist of these changes (and the corresponding numbers.)
These were big picture changes. Characters were getting cut. (Anyone who read the version when it was up on the site, say goodbye to pregnant freshman Ryann! And don’t expect to meet Theo’s awful dad.) Scenes were being reordered, cut, and added. I put the main character, Lacey, in her best friend Evita’s band. (That change, by the way, was like “Duh! Why wasn’t she always in it?”) I needed to make things happen over a shorter time frame. The version on the site took place over a whole school year; now, it takes place over about a month. I cut some subplots that didn’t have a lot to do with our main story. If I wasn’t going to fully explore an issue, then it really didn’t belong in the book. The story is about feminism and sexual health and first loves and friendships and making hard choices about your future. We had to make every element serve that story.
I had a phone call with Holly. It was super helpful. I had a new proposed chapter outline. It wasn’t any good, really, but I took a stab at it. Holly made a few suggestions. (“What if we start out here and this has happened?” “Can we get to this a little sooner?”) So I made a new chapter outline when we got off the phone.
Then I did something scary: I opened a blank Word doc. Enough stuff was changing, that it wasn’t worth looking over anything that wasn’t going to be included. Hitting delete on whole sections would have been hard, so I just wrote most of this draft from scratch and occasionally pasted in scenes that were still working.
There was a lot of figuring out timelines and rearranging where things happened. It honestly hurt my brain sometimes. (Picture me, in my pajamas, alone, talking to myself and scrunching up my face.) (Also picture me gripping my coffee mug, which was probably empty because I always drank it too fast.) (There might have been a cat or dog with me. Also maybe a human.) (But these are all details that probably don’t serve this post that well and could be cut, but I’m allowed to be self-indulgent in my blog post.)
During that first round of edits, I rewrote half the book, and I didn’t look back.
The second round was similar. More of what was in that second draft was better, but it could all be neater in terms of plot and the stakes could be higher. Every scene needed to work. It all needed to raise the stakes and get you inside the main character’s head and develop all those fun relationships.
Then it was onto line edits. And, honestly, there were a lot of notes, but hardly any writing scenes from scratch, and... it felt easy! It felt like there was more about this book that was fixed than broken. And the breaks were easily patched and tidied.
By far the most difficult part of editing this book was making that decision to start with a blank page. I’m not a plotter when I draft, though, so it made sense that I needed to plot and fix the structure in edits. I feel a lot more confident now in my ability to do that. I know that I can take characters that I’ve developed and love and change their circumstances and still find my way. I know that I can make a book tons better. I know how awesome editors are. Working with an editor was always the dream. I know that working with Holly (and Kat some, too) was helping to make my book the best, most fun, most readable, most awesome (a word I overused a lot) book it can be.
Now I’m just ridiculously excited for people to read it! I’m pretty proud of it. (And not terribly impostor-y at this moment!)
Peace and love,