As an experienced teacher and editor, I’ve spent years coaching others who are caught up in the creative process. However, as a new author, suddenly I feel like a college freshman again. Scary.
I do have help, though, and I love my editor!
She’s on my side, she wants me to do well, and she hates to tell me when my writing stinks—but she does it anyway. And after I suck my thumb for a while, I dig deeper and come up with something a lot better than what I originally wrote.
I don’t question or object to any of the major revisions she suggests. I have to admit that I love to research, which makes me attempt to include historical facts, characters, and events just because I think they’ll fascinate my readers as much as they intrigue me. Wrong. When my editor points out that they detract from my story, I reluctantly see her point and cut them, even though it hurts.
While growing up, I always hid my emotions, both from others and myself. So even now when my editor questions how my heroines feel, I do a double- take. I appreciate her encouraging me to explore the realm of emotions, though. I immediately dig in and try to empathize with my characters and express what’s going on inside them.
Or my editor will ask me to expand a scene, and I’ll gladly do it, again grateful for the opportunity and encouragement to explore a situation in more depth. Such major suggestions help make my story stronger.
Our most lengthy discussions usually concern small matters. For example, while writing my upcoming novel The Storm, I discovered that in England, Philip Morris targeted women as consumers for Marlboro cigarettes as early as 1847. Years later, the same company tried to interest American women in Marlboros, using the slogan Mild as May. It fascinated me that the Marlboro Man I grew up hearing about was once a woman who smoked “sissy” cigarettes.
However, my editor checked the facts and spotted one I’d overlooked. The American campaign didn’t take place until 1924, several years after the 1918-1919 setting of my novel. After I tried to determine what kind of cigarettes one of my main characters, Jacqueline (Jaq), would choose instead of Marlboros, we finally decided to simply say that she smoked cigarettes. We did specify, however, that her husband smoked Lucky Strikes, since they and Camels became very popular brands among soldiers during World War I.
That’s a small example of the kind of collaboration that occurs behind the scenes during our editing process, and it requires a lot of back-and-forth time. Although most readers wouldn’t give such details a second thought, you never know when someone may Google trivia about Marlboros or Camels, or even be an expert in the history of cigarettes.
My editor and I also talk about punctuation minutiae such as ellipses and commas quite a bit, but I won’t bore you with those discussions.
Suffice it to say that she’s the greatest.