Loving the cut – Emily Carpenter

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By Emily Carpenter

Recently, I put out a call on Facebook to my writer friends, asking them to complete the sentence, “Being edited is like…”  I was flooded with comments. Over sixty people responded. Here are some of them:♥

…having your body critiqued by a total stranger.

…having your arm cut off then having a better one sewn on.

…being picked apart by vultures.

…open heart surgery.

…an autopsy.

…a literary root canal.

Two actually used enemas as a metaphor.

There are things in my career that delight me to no end: Plotting a story. Figuring out a twisty twist or the way two seemingly disconnected plot points actually dovetail in a perfect way. Seeing my book on a bookstore shelf. But there are things that hurt: Feeling the pressure to blather about my book on social media. Wondering why one book didn’t sell as well as another. Stumbling across a bad review. Being disdained or dismissed by a fellow author I’d really liked and respected.

Unsurprisingly, for me, most of the things that fall into the “hurt” category pertain to the business side of publishing a book. But, sometimes, the actually process of writing of the book can hurt, too. At the end, I believe a writing career will never be about the money or the marketing, so you can always try to avoid those hurts. I can’t, however, avoid the hurt of writing a book because, when it all comes down to it, writing will always be, utterly and irrevocably, about the book.

But the way the book becomes THE BOOK? That, I’m afraid is where the pain part comes in. It is by forging through the uncharted territory of a first draft. It is by flailing in the mire of a second draft. It is by thinking you have an exquisite final product, or at least the promise of one, sending it off to your editor and receiving, in return, a manuscript cut to ribbons.

This part might be the most painful of all. This shredding is not the work of the game beta reader who seems to understand they’re reading the idea of a book. This is not the friend or family member that knows their job is to cheerlead you. This is a professional whose job it is to cut off the dead, useless, silly, draggy parts and to do it ruthlessly, without mercy — so the book that is meant to be, will emerge.

And while all writers complain about the exquisite pain of editing, we all know that there is no other way up that mountain. If we want a book that moves, that shakes, that, as Stephen King suggests, transcends space and time to communicate telepathically with another human being, we know we’ll have to endure the process.

One writer put it this way: “Oh god. It is a joyful scouring. An exercise in curiosity and non-attachment, with lots of ice cream breaks.”

Another said this: “It’s also so humiliating. Like I thought I was good at this, but I’m a hack. I’ve called the same character three different names? How many different ways can I misspell the word weird or reminiscent? Why is she pregnant for 16 months? Can’t I even do MATH right?”

And this: “It’s like walking out of a dressing room in an outfit you think looks really good, and your friend/mom/sister is like, “Absolutely not.” You’re embarrassed, confused, and grateful all at the same time.

Even film actors who, while naturally beautiful to begin with, must still endure hours of hair and makeup before they step in front of the camera. It’s not that our books are not wonderful — they’re just not ready for the glare of the lights. Have you ever had a blowout and concealer applied by a true pro? They swing that chair around, let you behold the results in the mirror, and kapow! You — of the crooked nose, round cheeks, and blue eyes — has become YOU — striking, mysterious, confident.

I like how this person put it: “It’s like flying to the stars while thinking, ‘Oh crap, do I have enough fuel to get home?’”


Emily Carpenter is a critically acclaimed and bestselling author of suspense novels Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, The Weight of Lies, and Every Single Secret. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.

emilycarpenterauthor.com

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