Attack Your Story so That Your Readers Don't Have To

 By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

The past month I've been drowning in edits. I've been working on substantial edits on Love Unexpected, the first of my lighthouse books that will release in December. The edits are due back to my publisher by the end of January.

And then in the midst of the big rewrites on Love Unexpected, I also got the Galleys for my July release, Captured by Love. And those are also due at the end of January.

Once I turn in the two books, I'll need to start editing a book for my new agent, getting it ready for her to send out on submission. And then I have the first draft of another book I have to self-edit before turning it in for the first time to my publisher.


I've been breathing, eating, and sleeping edits with no end in sight. As the pin says, "Writer: Not Crazy; Just in Rewrites."

Any time I get into editing mode, I realize that I'm really more of a first draft girl. I absolutely adore the process of writing the first version of a book. I could write all day and all night and never tire of it.

But editing is another matter altogether. Compared to the free-spirited, creative writing process, editing requires an entirely different mind-set. And for me, editing is laborious, pain-staking, and incredibly time-consuming.

It's like taking a fine-toothed comb through every page, every paragraph, every line of an entire novel. Such a task takes hours, days, even weeks of concentrated, focused energy. It's draining.

And quite frankly, it's also nerve-wracking. At the back of my mind I think, "I have to get everything right this time. No more fooling around. This is serious business."

Because the fact is, if we don't get things right during the editing phase, we risk disappointing our readers.

In some ways that fear is a good motivation.

It pushes us to keep going when we're tempted to cheat on our editing, to skimp, to gloss over details, or to disregard depth.

It motivates us to ruthlessly chop whole paragraphs, whole pages, even whole scenes that we once thought were brilliant.

It forces us to let go of words, to see them as just that–words.

It challenges us to exert painful effort to push, shove, and shape the story into something better, something that whispers with the breath of life.

In this current publishing climate that entices authors to produce more content, we're faced with the challenge of giving enough time and energy to quality editing. It's all too easy to focus on writing and publishing more books and to let the hard work of editing become the last thing on our to-do list, especially because editing tends to be tedious and difficult for many of us.

I only have to think of my readers, however, to quickly give editing the high priority it deserves. I don't want to disappoint anyone who picks up one of my books. I want to hand them my best every time.

If we as writers don't take the time to brutally and viciously attack our stories (during editing), readers will brutally attack the book later. But why give them reason to lash out? If we're brutal with our books, then our readers won't have to be.

Here are some of my favorite quotes on editing. These show just how seriously most successful authors take the editing process. (I love Shannon Hale's quote the most!)

I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” ~ Shannon Hale

I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living [crap] out of it.” ~Don Roff

"Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love.” ~Stephanie Roberts

"Editing is like pruning the rose bush you thought was so perfect and beautiful until it overgrew the garden.” ~Larry Enright

"Your first draft is a petulant teenager, sure it knows best, adamant that its Mother is wrong. Your third draft has emerged from puberty, realizing that its Mother was right about everything.” ~Angeline Trevena

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”~C.J. Cherryh

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." ~Colette

Are you tempted in the current publishing climate to skimp on editing? Are you attacking your story during the editing phase or are you being too gentle on your work? 

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