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February 10, 2017

Sculpting a Book Through Editing --- Guest Post by Erica Cameron, Author of ISLAND OF EXILES

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Here at Teenreads, we know that many of our readers are aspiring authors themselves. If you're one of them, you may keep a list of ideas and characters somewhere, or perhaps you've even begun drafting your first book. Believe it or not, writing your book is only half of the journey to publication. After you've sold your book to a publisher --- and even a little before --- you must deal with the editing stage. In this post, Erica Cameron, author of ISLAND OF EXILES, explains what she loves about editing, and how she was able to strengthen and improve her richly detailed fantasy so that it could become the book it is today.

Over the past four years, I’ve grown to enjoy editing much more than drafting. It took a while to come up with a way to explain why. This is what I’ve got right now:

Imagine a block of marble. It’s massive and perfect and exactly the color you were looking for. It can become literally anything. A horse, a house, a hat --- whatever you want. Once you decide on a project (a unicorn, let’s say), you start chipping away at the block, breaking off the pieces you won’t need. With each chip of stone that drops away, though, you’re losing a possibility. You’re erasing the directions you can go with the project and locking yourself into one. You’d also better hope you don’t make a cut in the wrong place, because the whole thing could still shatter if you’re not careful.

That’s drafting.

The beginning of a draft is fun because it’s boundless possibility combined with mad-scientist experimentation. For me, it gets harder and harder to figure out exactly what to write the closer I get to the end. It feels as though there are fewer and fewer “right” directions for the story to go in.

Editing, though? Editing is taking your unicorn statue and making it pretty. It’s bringing out the delicate tools to etch out the hairs in the unicorn’s mane and the ridges in its horn. Editing is finding the chips and flaws in the original project and fixing them. Sometimes it’s realizing that you may have made a unicorn, but oops, you actually should’ve made an infant in swaddling so it’s time to start chopping away major pieces again.

Even in instances of being forced to practically start over, I still prefer editing. Which is good, because I always have to do a lot of it.

ISLAND OF EXILES, for example, has changed a lot from proposal I sent Kate Brauning back in 2015. She saw nine chapters, a summary, an outline, and brief ideas for books two and three, but she came back to me with notes that altered the background and the motivations of the story. She nudged me to introduce immortals. She prompted me to alter the relationship between Khya and Yorri, making Yorri Khya’s younger brother instead of her twin. She made me look at the language and naming conventions of the series and make sweeping changes (improvements) to both.

Basically, only the first chapter of the proposal I sent her survived the editing process. I didn’t mind losing everything else, because all the polishing and etch-work I did on the second version of the book clarified the picture I had created in my head.

There’s a third stage to my metaphor, and it’s the best part. In my sculpture metaphor, this part would be the art show.

No matter how hard the editing stage is, when it’s finished you have something beautiful and shiny. Put it on a pedestal or hang it on the wall, this is the part where all the hard work pays off. It’s an amazing feeling to see the finished project, and it’s even better to see other people enjoying what you created. That is definitely what makes it all worthwhile.