Edit your attitude
There are many techniques for editing and which one you choose is down to what suits you, or, in the case of publisher edits, is imposed on you by your editor.
But what’s more important than the particular method you use is your overall attitude to your edits.
The story is the primary asset.
The needs of the story come before everything else. No matter how much you like a section, a line, a character, if it doesn’t work in the story it has to go. It can break your heart. I remember a line I wrote for a character and I loved it. It was funny and it fit the role he was in. But it didn’t fit him. He just wasn’t that witty and the tone of scene was too serious for it. It would be incongruous. Like “Oh now is when you come out with your comedy material? Really?” It had to go. There was another time I went back and forth, back and forth deciding yes, I will kill this character, then no I won’t, I love him! But the story needed him to die, so he had to die.
Decouple your ego from your words.
You wrote a story, long or short. You finished it. This is an achievement to be proud of. But once you come to edit this story you have to be ready to look at it objectively and critically. You must be ready to be your book’s harshest critic. However proud you are of producing those words, you must be ready to cut them and change them.
This attitude is especially important when working with critique partners. They are going to say things about your story that you don’t want to hear. They are going to find things wrong with your precious, golden words. How dare they? If you feel angry and defensive when reading critique it’s because your ego is still too closely bound up with the story. You have to distance yourself. Cultivate objectivity.
Words are not wasted.
It’s tough to cut a whole scene or chapter. You remember how hard you worked writing that scene. But nothing that’s cut or changed was a waste, only another step to finding the final version of the story. (See my recent post on Why no writing is ever wasted on the Dirty Birdies blog for more on this one.
Welcome to the State of Flux
There is no final draft – not before submission anyway. Until that book is published then all words in it are in a state of flux and not permanent. Don’t think of anything as being carved into stone. Until it’s up for sale it’s a work in progress. (And there’s always a second edition.)
A quick word about attitude when working with an editor
Remember that once you sell the book it is no longer just your book. It’s also the editor’s and the publisher’s book and its quality will reflect on them too. So work with them, don’t fight them. Let them help you get across what you’re trying to say most effectively. They are not usually out to destroy the heart and soul of your book.
Respect the editor, treat them as a partner. You’re in it together. Don’t be either overawed or arrogant. Editors will pull no punches, but, just like working with critique partners, don’t take anything personally. Act like a professional. Act the way you would at your day job if working with a colleague on a project.
Always remember – you and your editor are a team.
(I expand on this more in this post about editing after you sell the book.)