I would like to compare the editorial process to X-men’s Wolverine. I know it’s a strange leap, but my mind often makes obscure analogies. I have learned to run with it rather than fight with myself. And now for the question you’re all asking: Wolverine?
I don’t know if all of you have seen the X-men movies, so I will enlighten you.
Wolverine was a boy born with mutations. He could heal himself, and when he needed protection, spikes of bone would grow out of his knuckles. He used them to defend himself through wars as well as small incidences of violence, and was soon noticed by the government, who (to our great surprise) took him and experimented on him. In the most painful transformation of his life, his bones were plated with Adamantium (the strongest metal fiction can buy), and he became indestructible.
Perhaps you are seeing a correlation with editing a manuscript, but I will amuse myself by expounding the details.
Every manuscript created is immortal. For me, writing is god-like, the art of creating worlds and people, something as unique as a child (and just as time-consuming). Do not take that for granted. Cherish the fact that you finished it. Also realize that a little bit of cutting and dicing and even a shot to the head now and then is not going to completely destroy it.
Every manuscript is also born with mutations. Some of these mutations are what make the book as unique as Wolverine’s super-powers. Others are like moles and sixth toes. Every manuscript should be taken to the book doctor—the editor(s). You might be tempted to say that your novel looks perfect from the outside, but I guarantee that you would be sorry if you avoided seeing the doctor only to have your book die a miserable death and then discover in the autopsy report that there were internal maladies of the acutest kind.
The first step to getting rid of that sixth toe or mending the hole in your book’s heart is to accept the fact that book doctors know more about surgery than you do. This isn’t to say that you don’t know your own child, but sometimes we can be in denial about the seriousness of the imperfections. Even small defects are best taken care of rather than left alone.
The super-powers of your book, the aspects that set it apart, are what lay the foundation. My first trilogy, The Tigers’ Eye Trilogy, is set in a world where animals can communicate with their human counterparts. That is something I would never allow my editor to change. The integrity of your characters is also something worth protecting. As the author-creator, you should know your characters well enough to avoid shifting personality traits or inconsistencies in behavior. But beware, your own mood while writing can rub off. This happened during my first draft of Perception. Toward the end, my protagonist became whiny. My editor picked up on it, and I rewrote the scene when I was at a better place personally. I would also make one careful comment about being an author: sometimes gut instinct about certain aspects of your novel must be taken into account. This does not give us license to shun any editorial comment we do not like, but must take careful consideration about how each particular edit will affect the entire outcome.
While it is a terrible thing to be experimented on, Wolverine was made indestructible in the process. As authors writing on our own, we can be great; we start out with the bone that can be covered in metal and polished by others. The unique aspects of your novel, that foundation on which you build, can help you fight the wars and small skirmishes of the editing process. Make no mistake, the editor will poke and prod, but as long as the integrity of your novel remains in tact, you can rest assured that the product will be better once you stitch it back up. The process is painful. Sometimes it makes you question your abilities. It can make you angry and frustrated. You may disagree with what they are saying entirely. In these cases, consider the source. Is it the suggestion of a thirteen-year-old, your ninety-year-old grandmother, or an editor who has read thousands of manuscripts and knows the industry?
I hope I didn’t take the X-men analogy too far, but I wanted to have fun as I illustrated my point, because taking constructive criticism (that wasn’t always constructive) was one of the most difficult aspects for me as an emerging writer. Every comment made me feel like a failure when, in reality, I was just inexperienced. As we study the craft of writing, we can use the experiences of having our work edited to make us better writers. It’s always difficult to accept change, but give it time and look at the suggestions of your editor objectively. I did, and it made all the difference.
Your perception will sharpen once you see through a tiger’s eyes.
More than five hundred years after the apocalypse, the survivors of off-grid genetic experimentation have refined their mixed DNA to the point that humans and their animal counterparts share physical and mental links. Varying species have divided into districts, living in a tenuous peace under the President of Calem.
Ardana and her tiger ingenium Rijan leave their life of exile and abuse in the Outskirts, setting out with their twin brothers to redeem themselves and become citizens of the Center. But shedding their past isn’t as easy as they had hoped. When the system that shunned them becomes embroiled in political conflict and treachery, their unique abilities and experiences from the Outskirts make them invaluable to every faction. The runaways become pawns to friends as well as enemies, and with every step it becomes more difficult to tell which is which.
Heather Cashman graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry but has always loved to write, winning her first contest in the second grade. Married since 1992, she has three unique children and has moved from Arizona to New York to Kansas. She loves to kayak and canoe down the windiest rivers she can find. She welcomes opportunities to visit schools, libraries, and book groups in person or via Skype. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Heather currently lives near Wichita, Kansas with her husband and three children.
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Heather Cashman © 2011