Lessons… from a line — edit

Line editing changes typically arrive after you’ve already completed a substantive edit — you’ve already moved chapter five to precede chapter three, rewritten the character arcs of six secondary players, and developed your themes to a level you hadn’t thought possible. Then the line edit arrives — pages of tiny delete marks and suggestions for rearranging words — and you think it’s going to be a breeze.

Except it isn’t.

Every time you change a word, you have to read the paragraph above and the paragraph below to ensure you’re not repeating yourself. Then there are all those tiny notes that say “tone?” or “voice?” Whenever you meet one, you have to stop to consider. Would my character really think that? Would he know that word?

So basically your brain explodes.

But here are the best things about a line edit:

1. As the intern put it so nicely, it’s your last chance to ensure that your meaning is clear. Each note that says “is this what you intended?” is an opportunity to examine what exactly you did intend and whether you’ve achieved it.

2. It’s the best technical writing lesson you’ll ever get. If you use (hypothetically, of course) six thousand ellipses and em dashes in the course of your manuscript, and the editor removes five thousand eighty, you begin to recognize that punctuation might carry more weight if you used it sparingly.

3. Someone cares about your book. You’ve been writing this damn thing for months/years by yourself, not knowing if anyone else will ever read it. And now, suddenly, someone is pouring over it with such attention that each word matters. You can’t help but feel grateful.

I have a few pages to go. Wish me nimble fingers and clear thoughts.