Or, the superpowers of Stephenie Meyer’s editor
I came to The Twilight Saga at a time in my life when I desperately needed the literary equivalent of a security blanket. My mother-in-law, my role model, had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and we were visiting her for a week or so at her house in the Florida Keys. Family time often consisted of everyone sitting in the same room reading books, so I checked out Twilight from the library along with some more respectable volumes. Whatever those other titles were lay forgotten as I tore through the paranormal teen romance twice and then embarked on a multi-island search for a copy of New Moon. I also managed to read that twice before I had to return to the real world, where you can’t watch iguanas diving into the canal during breakfast and a sleepless supernatural suitor watching you slumber isn’t considered romance. I continued to collect and read all the books and saw the movies as they were released (some at midnight premieres with friends so rowdy we were actually shushed).
Some time after my initial fascination that in no way reflected the books’ quality, I found the spell had been broken. Two factors may have contributed to this development: 1) My mother-in-law passed away; and 2) I tried to read Midnight Sun. This was the version of Twilight written from Edward’s perspective, or at least it was going to be until 12 chapters were leaked on the internet. She abandoned the draft, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I do not feel alone with the manuscript. And I cannot write when I don’t feel alone.” She then published the draft on her website, raw and unedited. Meyer’s prose has never sparkled as much as her vampires, and plenty of editors have weighed in on its room for improvement. But Midnight Sun drives home how much Stephenie owes to her editor that the series was readable at all. I could only find her name in the acknowledgments of the third book (the first where Meyer deigns to acknowledge anyone at all), but I think Twihards owe a debt of gratitude to Rebecca Davis.
I debate whether Bella Swan deserves a place on my list. She certainly isn’t a warrior woman–the biggest battle in the books never even takes place. But I’m not sure she even qualifies as a strong female character. Besides turning into a vampire, her entire character arc consists of falling in love, having her heart broken, getting married and having a baby. Bella suffers from an acute lack of autonomy, especially as Edward steals parts from her truck to prevent her from going where she wants to. She’s supposed to be highly intelligent, but she forgets all about her education the moment she spots the sullen Cullen across the cafeteria. And yet she’s been undeniably influential in the category of sci-fi/fantasy that appeals to women, so I’ll use her as an excuse to share some thoughts I had during an afternoon of yard work. And so, five things weeding and editing have in common:
- It’s detail oriented. There’s a whole manuscript, or a whole yard staring you in the face, but you’re only going to get through it one word at a time. Spending too much time thinking about the big picture will only make the task more daunting, without getting you any closer to the finish, so home in on the details instead.
- It’s the nigh-impossible pursuit of perfection. My personal philosophy is that editing is the delicate balance between the pursuit of perfection and the deadline. I also firmly believe that, no matter how many times you read a manuscript, or how many times you go over that flower bed, you’re always going to miss something. And yet everything you do (assuming you’re following the first rule of editing, to do no harm) pushes the finished product just a tiny bit closer.
- It’s a necessary part of the process. No one likes to be edited, just like no one likes pulling weeds. At a minimum, it’s uncomfortable to have someone point out your flaws. But you’ll never achieve your best work without allowing someone else, preferably a trained professional, to weigh in. With the trend of self-publishing, I fear we’re losing sight of this important step.
- It isn’t always black and white. Is that a weed or a plant? Is it an error or a stylistic choice? it may be both, from different people’s perspective. It’s always a good idea to know when to query a change instead of ripping something intentional from the landscape. On the other hand, you must also be decisive, lest you leave a yard full of queries that makes it look like you haven’t done your job at all.
- If you’re doing it right, it’s invisible. Editing isn’t the right profession for you if you crave the spotlight or constant recognition. No one notices how many weeds aren’t there; they focus on the pretty flowers. They might notice if you’ve left a bunch of divots in the mulch, but not in a good way. Preserving the author’s voice when editing is paramount. A well-edited work should always sound exactly like the person who wrote it–at his or her best. You may think you could have written it better yourself, but that wasn’t what you were hired to do, so resist the urge. You won’t get credit for it, anyway.