A Copy-Edits Cause for CELEBRATION!!! (and also, for Craftsmanship)

These fireworks are beautiful,
like a bouquet of light.

(It was raining, so I didn’t actually go see fireworks this year.
But I heard them start up circa 10PM.)

A week ago, right before the Fourth of July weekend began, I got a wonderful little email from my editor:

It said that my ms was going to copy-editing!!! (Squeeeeeeee!)

But when I first read the news, my memory shot back two weeks, right before deadline – when I was reading through my novel one last time, checking for anything that needed fixing.

The thing was, I wasn’t finding much to work on. I mean, I did correct a few typos. But mostly, I would tweak a sentence, stare at it for a few minutes, and then decide it sounded better before and change it back.

While I was fiddling with one such a sentence, my mind wandered: You know, this revision didn’t take too long. Compared to the one in March, it was a piece of cake, and this read-through isn’t too fruitful on the tweaking front. I wonder what else we’ll have to change. Wouldn’t it be funny if it went into copy-editing after this round? And by funny, I mean awesome, but kind of unbelievable.

That thought provoked a number of different reactions:

(Disclaimer: oh, yes – I AM describing ALL the voices in my head. But all of these thoughts raced through my head in about a minute.)

  • Terrified: No!! Not copy-editing! The ms can’t possibly be ready yet. It’s too soon! I’ve only done nine drafts, and worked for twenty-two months– Er, wait… (Well, if you put it that way…)
  • Lazy: Are you crazy, Shelby? You want to do more work on this? Don’t you want to be done?
  • Chiding: Besides, do you really think you’re the person to decide whether or not your book is ready? – Your editor would know. She’s the professional. She has been doing this a lot longer than you.
  • Practical: It’s not like you’re making it significantly better right now anyway. The March revision improved the book by leaps and bounds; in comparison, this is more like a baby step in the right direction.

It was that last thought that made me stop and ponder for a second.

I really wasn’t improving the ms a whole lot anymore. It’s not like I thought that the book was Totally Perfect. (No book is totally perfect, even if it doesn’t score a 5 out of 5 on the B.V.O.T. scale.) But I was running out of tweaks to make. The ones I made I didn’t like as much as what I had before.

Maybe, just maybe, I thought, staring at the computer screen, I’ve reached the end of my skill as a self-editor. Maybe I have already made the book as good as I can make – at least right now.

In the March revision, I’d been shocked at how much I found to fix: whole scenes suddenly seemed unnecessary. Better jokes came to mind. Filler words fell away under a pink-pen-colored, line-editing rampage. When Jo put it on submission last year, the ms had felt polished then, so realizing how much more work I could find was a surprise.

At the time, I’d thought that after seven months away, I came back to ms with fresh eyes, which helped me find the problem spots. But maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe my eyes were sharper, better trained, more focused. In the off time, I had ruminated about my characters. I’d read blogs and writing books. I practiced my line-editing by critiquing for other people. In other words, I had become a better writer and self-editor without really realizing it.

If that’s true, that would mean that to improve my book again, I would need to improve my writer skills.

I’m always so focused on the book, and improving the book, and making the book the very Best Version of Itself. I often forget that I should be doing the same with my Writer self. I always want to push myself to do better, to leave my comfort zone, to grow, to sharpen my language until it explodes off the page. You learn by doing and revising, of course, but you also learn by going out into the world/blogosphere with the intention to learn and to practice.

And so, last week, when Courtney told me that the book indeed was going to copyediting, my first thought—

Okay, I’ll be honest: my first thought was YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!

My second thought was actually, OMG, did I predict the future?

But I also knew exactly what I had to do: in the months between now and the day the copy-editing ms returns to me, I need to push myself to become a better writer.

And what better way to do that than finishing the second book, and striving to make it better than the first? 🙂