The first work I ever did that was published was not fiction; rather it was my Master’s thesis.
The damn thing was 187 pages long, and it nearly killed me.
5,000 pages of language transcripts (all transcribed yours truly over the course of 6 months. I was a medical transcriptionist in graduate school, so I could handle all the typing, but gads, it’s a miracle I don’t have carpal tunnel). I did all my own stats, husband wrote the computer program that put all these words and codes into happy little numbers. (Seriously, God bless him. That man is a freaking saint)
There were tears, and pain. The time I accidentally deleted it when I was on page 100, I shrieked so loudly that the windows in our drafty, old house rattled. Luckily, husband had just taken a forensic computer class and got (most of) it back for me. And I can’t tell you the number of times I looked at the draft my advisor had sent back to me, marked up with red pen, asking me to change it back to the way it had been before she had made me change it FOR THE THIRD TIME.
I wanted to scream. Oh, wait, I didn’t want to scream, I actually did scream.
I don’t tell you all of this so you feel sorry for me. I am absurdly proud of my thesis, though I’m sure it doesn’t sound overly exciting to anyone but me, because I looked at maternal linguistic input to late talking toddlers during conversational/play dyads and analyzed the transcripts in order to see if I could determine which toddlers were language delayed, and of those that were, which ones would still be language delayed at age five. All based upon what their moms did with them during play scenarios when the children were two. (If you’re interested, I could, on both counts)
Are you awake after that? I fall asleep just thinking about it. But then again, that might be a defense mechanism.
In any case, what I can say about my thesis is that a) I still can’t listen to Dido and not think about coding maternal linguistic input–I had her first CD on continuous replay while I worked, and b) it prepared me for working with an editor.
I know it sounds weird, but all of that pain prepped me for giving up my work to an editor and having her mark it up.
I can thank my advisor for helping me understand that my writing isn’t all about me.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’d write something I thought was brilliant–brilliant, I tell you–only to have my advisor strike it with a comment like, “I don’t like this. Take it out.” Or “Redundant. Rework.” Or, the one I hated most, “Awkward.”
I learned that every word I wrote, every brilliant flash of intuition, every period and every comma, could be stricken without warning. The smart bomb of academia, if you will.
I learned to not be married to my words.
This idea came into stark relief when the thing went to publication. My 187 pages of sheer brilliance had to be distilled to 15 pages.
What????? Not only can I not be married to my words, but I have to divorce myself from them, as well?
I could only choose the most salient points. I couldn’t put every piece of research I’d done in the article, though so much had gone into it.
I couldn’t use every insight, or even talk about every code I’d used.
You may think it’s not like fiction at all, but that’s exactly like fiction.
The Marker is an historical romance. There are hours of research that went into just getting the clothing right. I know more about ladies’ (and men’s–oo la la!) undergarments of the early to late 1870s than anyone not in the costume business should. I know more about the time schedules of the train between Sacramento and San Francisco, and how long each type of train took to reach its destination, than the good folks who work at the local train museum (Not the one in Sacramento. Those people know everything. I know, because I asked them).
I did all of that research for what amounted to three lines of text. Yes, you read that right. Three lines.
In my original, pre-submission draft, I had so much more information in the text than appears in the published version. But, when it came time to submit, I had divorced myself from my words. They are, after all, just words.
Those words represent my blood, my sweat, and my tears, but they aren’t me. And that’s what my thesis helped me with: seeing that my words and my self aren’t the same. A rejection of my words is not a rejection of me.
So I go into this knowing nothing is permanent. I approach each manuscript with the knowledge that anything therein can be—and might be—changed.
And I think that helps.
What about you? What, if anything, prepared you for working with an editor, and how did you deal with it?