Last week, I finished the Structural Edit for my book. It started off as an exciting time: I knew that this part of the process would lead to the final product (the version of my book that everyone would read), as well as the fun stuff in the book publishing journey (covers and promo plans and the like).

About 15 minutes into the process, I got very tense. And I stayed tense. I think I came off as a miserable git to my publishers. There were a few back and forth emails. On one level, I was constantly worried that all the things I was doing to facilitate the edits might make for a worse book than the version before, or not capture the character as well as I had imagined her to be now that I have other opinions moulding her. I was realising that my book was passing through ‘gates’, and with each gatekeeper came a new opinion, a new way of looking, a new sense of the characters and their story. {If you want to know what an editor does, Allison Tait has put together a rather great interview with an editor over at her blog.}

I am not proud of my role the process. At home, in my own space, I lost my cool plenty of times. There was crying, swearing, staring at walls for long moments. At one point, I wanted to give back my advance and quit. At another, I simply flung my manuscript at the wall and walked out of the room. I guess the enormity of what I was doing hit me like a tonne of bricks and I was not prepared for it. Here are a few reasons why I found it so tough, and what I learned from it:

  • Structural Editing forces you to work from scratch: To some extent, my book is vastly different than it was pre-edit. Not in terms of content, but in terms of how I have approached writing the content. If I wanted to convey that something has happened, I was encouraged to do it via a conversation (for example) as opposed to just having my character express it (a little bit of showing as opposed to telling, I think). In some sections, it didn’t feel like I was editing the book I’d already spent so much time on, it felt like I was writing a new one, and I was not prepared for that workload when I was constantly thinking of Book 2.
  • Structural Editing… takes time: I thought that I was going to be able to edit it in a couple of weeks max, but it took double the time. A structural editor is like an engineer, s/he makes sure you have a sound project, one that doesn’t leave things unanswered and says the things it says in the best possible way. I found that re-writing one scene would have repercussions for many others. I couldn’t just change that paragraph and move on – I would have to go through the rest to make sure there were no remnants of the original paragraph (eg: a shop they were visiting) in subsequent parts of the project. There was a lot to think about too. Why did I approach it this way, and not the other? So it was not just time ‘doing’ as opposed to ‘thinking about doing’ (or what to do).
  • Structural Editing…requires inspiration: I don’t know if it was because I was ‘sick’ of my manuscript (more on that later), but I just couldn’t get into the zone of working on the structural edit. I was able to do edits easily after the first draft was finished, but this final edit was difficult. I think it’s because I cut a few different scenes (particularly in the beginning of the book) and had to write new ones, so I struggled with the uninspired writer’s block I already had before. Again, I just wanted to be on my second book already, the one with the deadline coming at me at high speed.
  • Structural Editing…needs a whole new document for it to work: Well, for me anyway. Why? Well, my structural editor suggested a few things be arranging. Grab some text from this page and slot it here, switch the order of chapters X,Y and Z, and so on. In the end, I got so confused, I realised I couldn’t work out of my existing document and just press ‘Save As’. I had to start a new one. I ended up itemising all the big changes on a sheet of paper, so I could track where things were moving to and if anything would need to be done once they moved (ie, a new intro to a chapter because of its location change). With the manuscript itself, I worked out of three documents. I would copy the chapter from the version that my structural editor read, paste it in a new word document, work on it, and then paste it into a Final Version document.  The middle ground allowed me to focus on that chapter alone, and cute/paste whatever was needed so I can imagine it as the structural editor wanted it, without impacting on the other content. It took me a while to figure it out as the best way for me, so the time took even longer.
  • Structural Editing can undermine your vision: I’ll have to explain this by example: Let’s say your structural editor reckons the reader needs to know more about your character, so s/he wants you to share more on him/her/them. Pointers on characterisation are good, but divulging too much of your character can have consequences for impact/bombshell scenes. Not always good. I was really torn about one particular thing in my manuscript that my editor suggested I introduce earlier, so that the reader knows my character’s stance early on. Originally said thing would come out in a crux sort of scene, so I am really afraid that even the scene is written well, it’s still not going to make as much of an impact. I ended up going with the editor’s comments, but I did ask my Agent and Publisher for their opinion, because said conversation was important to me. I guess that is one more thing to change if the need arises.
  • Structural Editing…made me sick of my novel: I think the trauma of dissecting such a big document for what seemed like the billionth time got to me. My eyes started glazing over. I was not reading anymore. Something that was once a passionate, creative task with a lot of meaning to me has transitioned into a job and I hated that my big project had become work. But I had to keep going with the knowledge that I was new to this business, and the Structural Editor was a pro, who was refining my book to be the best that it could be.[I ended up opening my manuscript again in the middle of fine-tuning this post, and my eyes didn’t glaze over. Turns out after two days of rest I no longer dislike it and I don’t feel the need to hurl it at all the wall.]
  • Structural Editing…is worth all of the above: Some of you may be reading this and thinking ‘Why the hell would she torment us with this stuff?’ and I don’t blame you. The process is not easy. It’s exciting to publish your book but it’s also a lot of hard work. I am lucky, but I am also working hard for it. And every edit I have ever made to my novel HAS made it better. I recommend fine-tuning.  So even if you’re self-publishing, editors who may cost you some dough are good. I know this because I have read books where I have been able to pick things out that should not be there. Editors are valuable. This post has taken me a week to write, but in that time, I am glad I have reached the point where I can safely add this last pointer in: Ultimately, the book is yours and yours alone, and you should dress it as you will. Even if you don’t want to take all of an editor’s points on board, at least s/he gives you a platform to think about what it is they’re trying to say, and then you can work your way around it to your style, so long as it achieves its purpose. Structural Editing makes your story grow, your characters grow, and brings them to life on the page. Adding in dialogue with someone, or dimension with more concrete ways of exploring their interests makes a big difference to making the character real. And real characters resonate with readers, even if they’re vampires.