Friday, December 7, 2007

The Editing Process: Steinhauer's Take

Olen Steinhauer, whose Victory Square is mentioned in detail below, has a fascinating take on the editing process on Contemporary Nomad, the blog he shares.

"Contrary to some opinions, my absence from the Nomad hasn’t been because of an inordinately long honeymoon (in fact, that only lasted a single night), but an inordinately intense edit," Steinhauer writes. "Just before heading home from Serbia, I got my editor’s critique of The Tourist. Though the book has already turned my career around in big ways (and recently gained Norwegian and Bulgarian publishers), the thing isn’t actually finished yet, and over the past weeks I’ve been trying to remedy that.

"In some ways, it’s a 'bigger' book than my previous ones. Physically–it’s longer–but also in terms of complexity and character POVs. Though I spent a full year working on it, all the final pages were written during the last 4-5 months of that year, and so there’s a certain amount of messiness to it, requiring more serious edits than the previous novels.

"When you’ve written six books in as many years, the intensity of an editor’s critique rolls off your back, particularly when you trust your editor–as I do mine. I know from experience that the problems she sees in my books are real problems, and while the solutions may not be exactly what she has in mind (and she’s very careful not to demand specific solutions), solutions of some kind are needed.

"To me, this is one of the most sensitive phases of writing a novel. I don’t mean that I feel sensitive to critique, but that this is where the tools of structure are put to final work, the characters’ inconsistencies are ironed out, and the pacing is set in stone. Though you might change little things in the page proofs, this is essentially your last chance to get rid of those big problems and awkwardnesses that will catch the critic’s and reader’s eye. In essence, it’s your last chance to write the novel.

"Unlike some writers, I don’t use a cadre of friend-critics as readers before this phase. (I have friends who are good critics, but I generally choose not to burden them with my drafts.) So by this point, usually the only person who’s seen the book is my agent and editor. This time, of course, the sets of eyes have exploded exponentially–my agent, the head of the agency, the agency’s foreign rights specialist, an agent at CAA in LA, a head of Warner Bros, a representative of Smoke House Productions, and innumerable scouts and editors at foreign publishing houses throughout Europe.

"This has had an interesting effect. It almost feels as if the book is only partly my own. As usual, I trust my editor’s criticisms and my own sense of right and wrong, but a part of me fears that, by cutting out X’s point of view, I’m going to get rid of, say, my German publisher’s favorite part, and while a contract may tie them to the final version, they’ll only take it grudgingly.

"It’s ludicrous to think this, and impossible to boot (after all, none of these more distant fans have told me what in particular they like about the book), but the feeling floats around me nonetheless as I try to work on the 125,000 words in front of me. Whereas before, this final edit was a conversation between myself and the woman in New York whose aesthetic and commercial sense I know is parallel to my own, it now feels at times like a crowded room.

"Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s interesting to note how the feel of this editing stage has changed. I don’t think that makes it better or worse; it’s just that, like anything new, it feels awkward and slightly harried. The next book, one hopes, will feel more natural.

"In order to turn this internal observation into a proper post for a blog, let me turn the question outward: Who here edits in a crowded mental room? Do you write with specific readers in mind, who might limit, or control, what you do? Or do you have your cadre of critic friends for whom you necessarily end up writing? Like I said above, I’ve never really done this, so I’m curious if it’s a common feeling."

1 comment:

Eugene said...

I write non-fiction, so I don't
really fit into your template, but I think that you've got to write for a single reader who you think will "get" what you're saying. Hopefully, you assume that that there are others that get it as well.

GS