Where Has All the Research Gone?

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?

Yep.

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?

About Meggan Connors

Mother. Wife. Author. Teacher. Really, really bad soccer coach.
This entry was posted in A Memo from Meggan, Historical Romance, Inspiration, Publishing, Soul Mate Publishing, Writing, Writing career and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Where Has All the Research Gone?

  1. And editors everywhere love you for this post.

  2. Research shows and pays off. The old adage is still true “Write about what you know”. So if you don’t know, do some research. I think your readers love you for it too.

    • Thanks! Actually, one of the most fun things about historical novels is the research, really immersing yourself in the time period. That’s what I like about them, anyway.

  3. My critique group. At first I thought they were murdering my story but I found out it was brilliant critiquing. You do have to step back and realize it’s not personal. Your editor is there to help make your story the best it can be. Even though he/she may seem like a drill sargeant lol

  4. Great post,Meggan, and it applies to contemporary as well as historical.

  5. ravenraye says:

    My first introduction to the ever-changing artistic world were in X-ray school. I know, what does this have to do with art? Well, we were gearing up for a fundraiser and I was asked to make a poster for the bake sale (by this time, everyone knew I could draw). I made a wonderful poster of a skeleton, complete with 206 bones, eating a sausage on a stick.
    When I turned it in to our director, she was ecstatic. But then began to make changes. Right on my poster. She put a little skirt on it, a hat, colored in the long bones… I was devastated. That was MY work. What right did she have to change it? Needless to say, I never made a poster for them again, but it taught me a lesson in how fickle the Arts can be. When you do something for someone else, you do have to be strong enough to let it go.

    Raven

    • Hi Raven!

      Yes, that is absolutely true. Being in such a subjective business, we have to be willing to let our creations go–or risk our relationships with both our editors and our readers. 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

  6. Smart, insightful, funny–just like you!

  7. jannashay says:

    Great post. My first encounter with editing was in high school when I wrote for the school paper and for our literary group. It was hard at first to not feel rejection, but my wonderful creative writing teacher helped me accept the fact that the editing of my words was not a rejection of me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s