editrix of the trade

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Think back to any “E! True Hollywood Story” you’ve ever seen (because I know you’ve seen them). You know how there’s always that grainy, talent-show clip of a six-year-old Christina Aguilera belting out a song onstage at her elementary school, and then a quick cut to a talking head of a parent or friend who’s all, “we knew from the very beginning she would be a singer”? I think these moments happen for those of us less glamorously gifted, too.

Mine would be when, at age seven-ish, I was flicking through the manuscript for a book my mom was working on illustrating about princesses having a slumber party. After hearing a story of fantastic beasts evidently too scary for sheltered royal progeny, one of the princesses was said to gasp thusly: “What DRAGON?”

Cue me: “Shouldn’t it be ‘WHAT dragon?'”

An editor is born!

This humble-bragging anecdote is just a lengthy, lede-burying lead-in to the fact that I’ve just (well, a month ago) completed editing My Novel. Since that first incidence of precocious pedantry, I’ve gone on to edit plenty of things–the high school lit mag, endless cover letters, a handful of news articles, and even manuscripts–but never anything so long and so very my own.

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If you’ll recall from this fall’s FAQ, I absconded to Canada with the a project of writing a book, which I did. I had a schedule, which was to write 2,800 words a day, and I mostly succeeded, because I had nothing else to do and I was determined to see this thing through. It hit 78,000 words, I hit the end, and then I started another one, because I still had a month and a half left in my new lease on life and also on sublet apartment. I left the book alone, like you’re supposed to, and waited.

I don’t (or don’t here, anyway) talk about my fiction writing much, because…it’s scary! I don’t know. For some reason I’m the proverbial open book about my Real World, whether I’m sobbing in nice restaurants or weathering a long-distance relationship or thinking about the future where my parents are dead and I don’t know how to get my car repaired. But when it comes to letting people in on my Fake World, the one that I built in my head out of gumpaste and papier-mâché and dreams in Old French, I seal off.

For the creative process, the generative part, I think this is a good thing–no matter how crazymaking the lonely days of French-Canadian composition were at the time. But for editing, and especially after editing, you’ve got to start letting other people in.

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So I emailed copies to trusted friends, printed the damn thing out, and slapped it in a plastic binder, ready for the evisceratory rage of the red pen. And you know what? Weren’t so bad. Were, actually, kind of fun. Kind of a relief to see that hey, the book is Not Terrible. Kind of reassuring to see that, with the benefit of a break, my future-self could pick up and refine the threads and themes and know what and when to slash. Kind of thrilling, too, to think that “WHAT dragon?” was a question more rhetorical than I realized at the time–a calling to my calling.

The book is 81,000 words long. It is funny and it is sad and it is Pretty Good, if I do say so myself. It is being looked at by experts, really, and it is in God’s hands, figuratively. It is finished in the sense of done and finished in the sense of slicked over with metaphorical polish, but either way, I’m the one who finished it.

Edited to add: My sainted mother managed to track down the page in question. Behold:

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