Book II, Part III: Fighting in the Captain’s Tower
So I’ve talked a lot in this series of posts about the joys of working with an editor, and this is not to gainsay any of that, or undermine it, but I think it’s worth discussing: what do you do when you don’t agree with the editor’s decisions? In my experience, I’ve always found the process very two-sided, very flexible and accommodating. The editor’s changes are suggestions, not orders, and while 95% of them are changes that I think make the book better, every so often I come across something that I feel I want to keep the way it is.
When should you stand your ground?
This makes it sound like a battle, which of course it is not. But as an extremely confrontation-averse person, I find disagreeing with anything immensely stressful, so I come over all frantic if I have to say no to something, and behave as if it’s a big, awkward deal, even if the other person was only making a gentle suggestion. One of the times, however, when I do say no, is when the editor’s decisions relate to medieval-specific things that I know more about.
The instance that comes to mind is when I used the phrase making letters for writing. Sounds weird, right? But this is what people talked about – making letters – when they talked about writing in the middle ages. We think of reading and writing as part of literacy, but in the medieval world most people listened to stories and were aware of literature, and many could read, but few could write. The beginning of the writing process was called making letters – we’re in a world where people can read and understand advanced literature, but write like primary school children. I wanted to keep this.
What matters most?
I’m happy to let a lot of description go; if the editor suggests it be cut, that indicates to me that the reader already has a good picture, and it’s clear what’s happening. It’s easy in the self-editing, re-reading process to worry that something or other isn’t clear, and add more, and it’s not necessary. So I’m grateful for those suggestions – no one wants to be held up reading more about something they’ve already understood.
I care more about character-specific moments. Details that, to me, are crucial (or at least quite important) to the character who is speaking or thinking them. And beyond that, on a more self-indulgent level, if I have written a little phrase or fragment that I’m particularly pleased with, I might ask to keep it.
As it is, I’ve never had a dispute about any of the changes suggested and made or not made – as with any good partnership or working relationship, it’s a two-way street, so the process necessarily involves a little give and take.
Part of being able to freely accept so many good suggestions of changes that really improve and tighten the work is knowing when to say ‘Actually, I think this needs to stay’. When you’re working with an editor, it’s important to feel able to say that. That’s part of the trust relationship that can be hard with someone you’ve never met face-to-face, but if you feel that, in general, they see the same thing you see when they read your work (which I happily think is largely the case), then there’s much to learned and gained from it.
Morgawse 2, A Fragile Crown, out now!