All last week and over the weekend I’ve been going through the line edits on my new book. I had already gone over the manuscript with a broad brush – tinkering with things like making one character a little bit tougher; getting rid of some subsidiary scenes that slowed the pace – but line edits are the real nitty gritty. Punctuation, repetition, anything from half lines to whole paragraphs of dialogue or description – all get the ruthless blue pencil from my editor.
It’s easy to react badly to all this. (Well, it is for me: other writers may be far more reasonable, experienced, level-headed, calm and wise.) Even though I’ve done it before, even though my editor is lovely, sympathetic and perceptive, I take my first glance at the scrawled blue loops, crossings-out and comments with indignation positively foaming through my veins. I lose my cool. My inner teenager runs riot. I phone a friend. I pour out my woes. I am bitter, furious, misunderstood. Doesn’t my editor understand the effort that went into crafting that perfect cadence in the opening paragraph? Doesn’t she realise that if I sacrifice that, I sacrifice my artistic integrity?
Editors, I once said elsewhere, are like your mother. Writing a book is like packing a suitcase. I have a tendency to cram in everything I think I can possibly need. What will the weather be like? Will I go out in the evenings? How can I possibly bring too many shoes? Ooh, and there’s that glittery off-the-shoulder thing I got in the sales – I’ve never found a use for it yet, but maybe this time I can put it on and really strut my stuff.
Then, just as I’m bouncing on the suitcase, trying to get it fastened, along comes my editor. “I’m packed,” I say, beaming. “Just help me zip it up!”
And she says, “You don’t need all that stuff!”
And do you know what?