I love my editor.
Perhaps it sounds trite, but she makes me so much better. Without her, I’d be a mediocre writer.
Back when I was in college, I had this naive and arrogant idea that writing was this singular, artistic process. When you sat down and starting typing, a magical, creative event was occurring. The art was the exact choice of words at that particular moment in time. One shouldn’t alter too much — just correct typos — because to do otherwise was to mar the art.
What can I say? I was young and stupid. I was also pretty full of myself. My only explanation is that I was in my early 20’s.
The truth is the artistic part of writing doesn’t happen in the first draft. That initial part of the process — the actual writing, if you will — is more akin to manufacturing. You’re building the raw materials.
I got the second draft (I never let anyone read a first draft) of the next mini-memoir, “Swing and a Miss: My True-Life Adventure in Baseball,” back from my editor.
“It’s good,” she said. “But it’s missing something. Your first three were about you. This one’s about baseball. You need to make it more like the first three.”
That crushed me. First, I’d thought the manuscript was pretty good. Second, I’m running a pretty tight ship this year. While I have built in plenty of lead time for each project, I thought I was ahead on this one. I thought I had time to worry about other books. I didn’t really want to have to take this one back to R&D.
I could have ignored her. She’d have accepted me writing a love letter to baseball instead of to my childhood like I had with the other three.
But I remember the words of one of my choir directors in college: “Don’t ever put your name on crap.”
As written, it wouldn’t have been crap, per se. But it would have been less than I am capable of, and that’s outside my work and artistic parameters.
So I dug into it. And of course, she was right. Between stress and a busy schedule, I’d been phoning it in. The book was based largely on an earlier manuscript, and I’d basically just punched up four-year-old text to be a little better.
But it wasn’t what I was capable of.
So I edited the daylights out of it. I looked for opportunities not only to change the focus from baseball to my childhood adventures but to really tell a good story. The original MS was half-assed. It was a good beginning, but it was not worthy of being published in its current state.
As my pen flew furiously, making suggestions and pointing out instances where I had lazily told the story instead of shown it, I felt my mind opening up. I felt myself coming alive again. The stress of the previous weeks melted away. I took joy in the craft of the rewrite.
It’s already a much-better book, and I’m only half done. I had hoped to be further along in the process this week, but I don’t care. I am writing a good book instead of a mediocre one.
I love my editor. She makes me so much better.