Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

February 1, 2012

Behind the Book — My Editing Journal

If I were keeping a journal right now, the entries would look something like this:

Monday, January 30, 2012–

I manage to make myself go to Physique 57 today, the only thing I know that’s harder than editing a book. I figure what better way to clear my mind and get ready for the day ahead? For those of you unfamiliar with Physique 57, it’s pretty much the hardest, most challenging, most effective workout in the world. There comes a point, half way through class, when I think: I cannot do this anymore. I am either going to die right here on this floor or somehow crawl out and die in the hallway. But as Kyle, my teacher says, “You can do anything for ten seconds.”

This is something I need to remember right now as I am up to my neck in copy edits. And it does help to get me through what turns out to be a day of unusually high email demands– too many non-editing-related-yet-still-work-related matters to deal with. And it helps me get through the edits. Each day I set a goal for the work and today’s is to get through 120 pages. By getting through, I mean reading all the notes made by both the copy editor and my editor and then addressing every note that appears on that allotted 120 pages. And by addressing I mean answering, cutting, rewriting, or, in some cases, returning changed text back to what I originally wrote (sometimes copy editors are so proper and thorough that they can make a character’s voice– especially one as informal as Velva Jean’s– sound overly articulate). In the midst of it all, my editor and I engage in some back and forth regarding certain sections of the story. And more emails pop up that need answering.

My work day ends sometime around 8:00 pm, and then Louis and I watch History is Made at Night, starring a swoon-inducing Charles Boyer and the lovely Jean Arthur, because, when I’m not at my desk or working out, I am watching romantic movies that will help me stay in the mindset (and heartset) of Velva Jean’s romance in Becoming Clementine.

I fall asleep reading a biography of Charles Boyer, which is my way of keeping one foot in the world of 1940’s Hollywood so I don’t get too far away from the book (Velva Jean’s Hollywood adventure) that I’ll be going back to researching and outlining next week, once the copy edited manuscript is returned to my editor.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012–

I don’t get to exercise today, although I pretend I think I’m going to. Instead I work on the next 120 pages of notes until I get an email from my editor wondering if I can condense eight of the existing forty-some chapters into one or two so that the story can move along faster. I practice yoga breathing, which is the closest I get to a workout, and then I tell myself: You can do anything for ten seconds.

I write my editor back, telling her why I don’t think this will work (and it’s not that I’m against cutting– I’ve already cut huge sections/chapters/scenes out of this book), but promising her I will cut and trim like a mad woman in that particular section.

Then I somehow manage to make it through not 120 pages but the entire rest of the book, which leaves me exhausted and incapable of even basic conversation or thought, but feeling somewhat triumphant as well. This means I can spend all day Wednesday looking at those eight chapters that have my editor so worried.

The work day ends at 8:30 pm, and we watch Brief Encounter, which unfortunately does not star Charles Boyer, but is good just the same. I fall asleep under a stack of research books for Velva Jean in Hollywood– a biography of Clark Gable, the story of MGM’s publicity man, Eddie Mannix, and Lana Turner’s self-indulgent autobiography, which I am determined to get through even though she seems most interested in talking about her jewels.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012–
I wake up bleary-eyed and groggy, which I equate to having a kind of book editing hangover. I send the eight chapters in question to my mother, explaining my editor’s concerns, and then I force myself into the car and make myself drive to Beverly Hills to go to Physique 57. Half way through class I think, “This is ten times harder than editing a book, which is already the hardest thing I know of on this earth,” which makes me think, with renewed vigor, that I can go home and Do This Thing. (There is a reason I’ve thanked Physique 57 in the acknowledgments of my book.)

Back at my desk, I see with great relief that the email world is much quieter today. Nothing pressing, nothing that needs addressing. I dive into the eight problem chapters and spend most of the day stripping things away, rewriting, and reorganizing scenes. I discuss what I’ve done with my mother, and then I reread the newly edited pages before moving on to reread other parts of the manuscript.

Everything is in place so that tomorrow I can start reading the book aloud from beginning to end. In my experience, this is the very best way to weed out anything that doesn’t need to be there.

I am still at my desk, but I’m thinking of stopping early today– perhaps by 7:00 pm so we can walk to Trader Joe’s and find something good for dinner and then come back home and watch my favorite romantic movie of all time, Chaplin’s City Lights. Which, unfortunately, also does not star Charles Boyer.

(But I am considering thanking him in my acknowledgments.)