|The titular saint, rising, Osimo.|
The last six weeks I've been working with the freelance editor engaged by my publisher to knock my second novel, NAILING DOWN THE SAINT, into shape.
This was a different editor to the one who did my last book, THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS. As I remember that process (late 2012, early 2013), it was enjoyable - though re-reading the post I wrote in March 2013, time may have smoothed some of the rough edges.
Getting edited is a bit like receiving the worst review ever. That one you dream about the night before your book comes out, where someone you respect has mercilessly picked at the minutiae as a way of proving THIS WRITER IS NO GOOD AND NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. There’s no time to talk about the story because there’s so much else wrong with the book. Look, they don’t even know when to use ‘lay’, ‘laid’ or ‘lain’!
But, you remind yourself, this is not a review. There’s still time to make these changes and save face. You convince yourself this, but as with a bad dream, you still carry it round with you the rest of the day — that sense of shame.
The process this time never felt like getting the worst review ever. It felt like getting notes from the one person in your writing workshop who gets what you're trying to do. Which is funny, as I haven't been in a workshop in twelve years and have kept this current manuscript closer to my chest than anything I've ever written. I was ripe to feel exposed.
Unlike last time, when I had weigh up whether to change how a third of the novel was narrated (I stuck to my guns), but agreed to rewrite the final section -- and every page of the manuscript had at least one marked up comment or change (and just four pages had only one change), the edit for NAILING DOWN THE SAINT was reasonably light. As in, multiple pages with nothing in mark-up!
Some of this is down to the reworking I did in August and September after receiving comments from my publisher, so I brought some of the work forward. Which might explain why the process with the freelance editor reduced from three months to six weeks this time around.
Also, THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS was historical. NAILING DOWN THE SAINT is - mostly - contemporary (there are some excursions to the seventeenth century and the near future). There's just less to question (and it's harder to stuff up) when you stick in the now.
The manuscripts were a similar length (finishing up at 105k and 115k words respectively), but I spent longer on this new one. I'm not just talking about the six year gap between publications. One day I might do a deep dive into the analytics (I recorded my daily wordcounts for both novels) but the sense I have is that I wrote less per day when drafting the new book, while having MORE TIME (i.e. I was a full-time writer in 2017 as the Robert Burns Fellow, whereas I worked three, four and five days a week the entire time I worked on THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS). More time and slower progress - it's no surprise the manuscript was tidier.
This is not to say I didn't have tics and snafus. From my commissioning editor pointing out how many times someone nodded their head (a shit ton) to me noticing how many times I used the word "crumpled" (10!) in my final read-though, the last six months have made the manuscript infinitely less grating.
There's still scope for readers to dislike the book, of course - but the hope is that they're disliking the choices I've made, the story I've decided to tell and the way I've told it, rather than the fact I can't make it through two pages without someone nodding or crumpling.
One final observation about this editing process versus the last: I like receiving the editor's comments in chunks.
Last time, I got a long email (while I was in the delivery room with my wife - don't @ me, it was a induced labour with a lot of downtime) with high level comments that started a back and forth to inform how the editor would mark-up the manuscript, which I then received in one go and worked through it.
This time there was a much briefer initial email, we agreed to work in chunks and I received the first 50 pages, so we could each get a feel for the process, then received three more chunks. It took me 2-4 days to turn each batch around, by which time another one was ready. After the last batch, I got the whole manuscript for one more read-through. In less that six weeks we'd gone from hello to best wishes. The process and timeframe works best when it's a light edit, of course. But I think batches helped keep my anxieties in check. It felt like a collaboration. I never felt blocked or frustrated or intimidated by the process.
It's funny to be writing such a rose-tinted post about this novel after not so long ago rambling about being "tender", and feeling "exposed, misunderstood, worthless, frustrated and tired".
There's plenty of time for those same anxieties to rear up between now and the August 2019 publication date (and the process of trying to get it repped and published outside of NZ and Australia). But for now, at least, I'm happy with the work I've done and look forward to seeing this next 300+ page fever dream make it out into the world.
PS - but don't get me started on the cover design process!