I’ve learned a thing or two over the years from my critique group member and friend, Uma Krishnaswami. One thing I’ve heard her often repeat is the reminder that XYZ isn’t the art form. The story is the art form. XYZ might be an author’s note or a system for gathering research or any of the myriad other things that go into the writing life (…or regular life, if you want to extend the metaphor).
This is something I’ve been thinking about as I explore my next verse novel, The Burning Season, through first-round edits.* Early edits are traditionally the messiest. The biggest changes happen in this phase. I threw out two thirds of Jasper in edit rounds one and two (meaning I did it twice over) and two thirds of Miraculous in that book’s first round. It’s hard. It happens. And if it makes the book better, it’s got to be done.
I am prone to categorize and measure and analyze the way I work, the things I read, and the big and little ways I conduct my life. I have a bit of Ben Franklin in me, a friend likes to say. I like goals! Records! Comparisons! But a problem arises when I decide this is the way I do XYZ. The more I force my approach to my work or insist it unfolds in a way similar to how it’s happened in the past, the more I realize I’m making the system the art form.
So. Here I am showing up to my edits most days of the week. Sometimes it looks like what I’ve done with other novels. Sometimes it doesn’t. A book will teach you how to write it. That’s something else Uma told me once.
Here I am trying my best to learn.
*A (confusing) clarification: authors often use the words edits and revision interchangeably. Revision is the big-picture work (sometimes called developmental edits) that happens before small-scale changes (called line edits). Copy edits are another thing entirely — grammatical and spelling errors and stylistic inconsistencies, to give a few examples. I’m sure it’s not helpful to learn that an editor writes an editorial letter to her author in order to guide revision.