Being Edited: Hurts So Good / by Dan Mayer

I thought it would hurt. It did, but I liked it. I called up a friend who writes and asked for a hook-up.  He sent me in the direction of Tanya. Tanya and I made a deal. I girded myself for the experience of being edited.

Might not sound like a big deal to those of you who've had the experience, but I'll admit I was frightened. I imagined the feeling of having my deepest creative expressions quietly stepped on, a coarse file applied to my moments of sharpest wit. Would my editor appreciate some of my more esoteric gestures? Would she understand the way I slowly build to the point of a shtick by repeating it many times with tiny variations in detail? Would my editor get me?

It wasn't like we were assigned to work together by some wizardly captain of the publishing world. Tanya was a hired gun. Hired by me. I sent her my novel, and she sent me back a couple of sample chapters.

Her work was good. I said yes.

After that I pretty much turned away. I didn't have the time or financial resources to discuss the meaning of individual lines and passages. If I argued with her or asked for a reason for every edit it would have taken her ten times as long, and editors get paid by the hour. Plus, I wanted to see what it would be like to actually see how the story reads to someone who didn't know me personally. Friends and family will tell you you're brilliant because they love you, but also because they have the advantage of hearing your voice in their heads when they read your words. They know your tones and your inflections, and have had plenty of time to become familiar with the subtext of what you actually express. Tanya had never heard me speak; our interactions were all via email, friendly but essentially businesslike. She would be coming to the text without authorial personality casting any light.

I expected to be frustrated and a little bummed when I got the edited novel back. What I received instead was a streamlined, far more coherent narrative that had lost 100 pages of flab. When I went back and looked at some of the edits, I was a little embarrassed by a lot of what was in those 100 pages. There were indulgences. There was a lot of me working through my own psychological issues and failing to translate the results into story and character. The worst stuff was just me trying way too hard to sound like Thomas Pynchon, which is a common mistake a lot of  contemporary (white, male) authors make, and an absolute horror on the page.

The 100 pages contained exactly what needed to be gutted from my novel. When I read the edited version, it felt the way I imagine being liposucked must feel. When it's over and your extra skin has been pulled taught and stapled into place, everything looks more the way you imagine it should. Thank you, Tanya. You made my novel better.