Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thank you, Baby Cheeses

Yesterday, I sent an email to a client. This is the second book I’ve done with her, so I know by now how she responds to things. She was brave the first time around, with her first book, but some of it really stung, I could tell. She was never a tantrum pitcher or anything like that, but she tended to withdraw a bit, lick her wounds, then resist a little.

I know writers think editors like being mean, like ripping something apart. So not true. It sucks for us too. I really hate it when I have hard news to deliver to a writer. I mean, I love the challenge of improving a piece, or I wouldn't be doing this work. But there is a real downside, as well.

And in this case, she's already rewriting, based on an initial critique of the ms. So I am now editing the rewrite. I had to essentially say, sorry, but you missed. Again. I was a little worried.

And, appropriately enough for an editor, I worry about my language. It's never easy to say, "uh, we have a problem here." It's a tricky thing. As an editor, you can’t be so soft that the writer thinks it’s not that important. But you also can’t come on so strongly that it seems like you’re bossing them around, or just plain being mean. And in this case, I thought it was a critical problem, a crucial moment in the novel. If we didn’t get it right here, the rest of it wasn’t going to hang together, really.

So I drafted the email, as I usually do: First, going through and getting down my points, making the argument in the intellectual/technical sense, then going back through and softening the language, paying attention to the emotional side of it. Trying to be sensitive. For help, I turned on Barry Manilow’s Feelings. Ha, just kidding, but maybe I should. This is an area in which I sometimes feel unskilled.

(In an almost-completely unrelated note, I should say that I am learning that my tendency toward hoof-in-mouth disease—and to stampede over people’s feelings—may be innate. It is apparently the fault of my natal astrology. I am a Sagittarius. And I’ve been doing research, for an astrologer character I have in my own work, and so I’ve been studying my own chart. I found a description of Sagittarius the other day that explained its mythological symbol, half-Centaur (the back half, natch), half-Archer, with this lovely editorial gloss: “Any sign can make half-an-ass of itself, Saggie, but you’re the only one that’s born that way.” Ha! I’ve been giggling about that for days.)

Anyway, I finished the email—and with a glance at the heavens, asking for a little protection, perhaps a small Christmas miracle of my very own—I hit the send button.

Two hours later, the writer responded. I took a deep breath, and clicked open the email. And she said, essentially: "I knew you were going to pick on that chapter! You’re right. And I can’t believe how well I’m taking this, btw, but I am. I’m going to start rewriting next week. Don’t do anymore editing, I’ll rework it and send it back to you. Thank you! Merry Christmas!”

I feel like a proud parent, amazed at how quickly they grow up! She's a pro now. It's about the work, about getting it right, and getting it done. I love when this happens! It's also like being a teacher, and seeing the lightbulb go off over your student's head. Yes, thank you! And Happy Birthday, Baby Cheeses!