Publishing · Writing

Inside the editing cave.

It’s the last month of the year. How did we get here? I’m still pinching myself to remember everything in November was real. I signed with my dream agent. I pounded out a bunch of (mostly crappy and probably unsalvageable) words for NaNoWriMo — a new project that I’m excited to work on next year. I finished my last full month at my day job. November was life-changing, as glib as that sounds.

Now I’m busy revising one of the threads in USLS. I have ideas about it and I’m excited to see what comes of them…

But this process is actually kind of terrifying.

Everyone wants an agent. Everyone focuses so hard on that very specific want. But I don’t think anybody ever stops to consider the other things that change once you sign, once you’re officially represented.

Before, it was just you and the words. You and the stories built out of your fragile little sentences.

Then you get an agent, who asks you to do some revisions. Your agent is one of the smartest people you’ve talked to, and understands facets of your novel you’ve never even noticed yourself, and gives you feedback that’s so sharp and so right, and you open your draft feeling all shimmery and excited to get to work. But now there are expectations. Your agent seems to think you and your book are somehow magical and you know the truth is that you really, really aren’t. You are that illusionist huddling in the shadowed corner pretending you are something more.

Before, you wrote and revised for yourself and it didn’t matter at all if what came out was horse shit or double rainbows. Before, you could start over any time you wanted. You could switch projects. You could rip out an entire character for masochistic fun and then try to repair the resulting hole with weird experimental shit because nobody was watching.

Writing on your own and for yourself is like scream-singing and silly-dancing in your underwear in your empty apartment where nobody cares if your voice cracks or your arms flail and you can be wild and free and thrill in the fact that you’re doing something you love and nobody has any power over any of it.

But when you bring in other people, and other expectations, suddenly you’re on a stage. Suddenly, those little cracks in your voice are unforgivable. The arm-flailing stops being cute. You’ve got a show to put on. Something real to perform. Hello, stress.

And what if? What if your revisions aren’t good enough?

And there’s the thing. It’s always the same damn question. “What if it’s not good enough?” First, not good enough to get an agent? If you’re lucky to get past that, it’s then the question of not good enough to find an editor? Then, what if it’s not good enough for the critics? For the consumers? What if it’s not good enough to sell a second book?

And so we spiral down the black hole of anxiety.

But I’m the illusionist, damnit, and at the very least I’ll conjure up an illusion for myself. (“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.” Zadie Smith. I’ve quoted her and this probably five million times. But I have to remind myself over and over again.)

I’m doing my re-outlining exercise now, which always starts out feeling like a potential waste of time but always, always ends up being incredibly important and useful. And I’m sketching out a new outline for the new shape of this part of the story.

The fear and doubt never go away. But I know how to work hard. I know how to make transformations happen in my writing. I just need to do it one word at a time.

Here I go.

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