The book and the babysitter: why it’s hard to trust an editor with your baby

If you are a parent, you will know how insanely difficult it is to be separated from your newborn baby — especially for the first time.

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When my first daughter, Eve, was eight weeks old, she had a sleepover at her Ouma’s. I hadn’t been sleeping very well, and it was suggested that a night off from the feeding, pumping and nappy changes might be beneficial to my state of mind. I would have a bath, a wine, a chat to my husband about something other than babies; we would play music really loud, and catch up on some uninterrupted sleep. It would be something different to the usual routine — feeding baby until she went to sleep, watching the little cherub sleeping (breathing!) in her cot, waiting for her to wake up for the next feed or settle.

It didn’t turn out as planned.

First of all, leaving my little girl at her Ouma’s was like leaving my heart behind; it was painful and emotional, and I really struggled to function without her. I didn’t end up having a bath, my husband and I talked about mostly her all night, we didn’t play loud music, and to top it all off, I couldn’t sleep. Not for the life of me. I was too busy wondering whether the little darling was ok and if Ouma was coping with the wake ups.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. Ouma stood over her like a hawk all night, taking care of her every whim, and enjoying every single micro-second of grandparenthood 🙂

It got easier after that, and the benefits of a night off from time to time, definitely outweighed the early trauma of separation. There were other advantages too. Eve became more independent, mummy had time to re-group and revive, and most importantly, both Eve and myself became happier and healthier for our occasional times apart. And the reunions were even sweeter.

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For many writers, a book is like a baby. No, it doesn’t need feeding, it doesn’t projectile spew, and it certainly doesn’t poop in the bath, but to some extent, it’s part of you. You’ve created it, nurtured it, laughed with it, and cried with it. And the thought of anyone else reading it, just feels so blimin’ scary.

After all, they just don’t know it like you do.

But there a comes a time in every writer’s life when they must let go of that first draft, pass it over to a reader, and hope it will come back stronger.

That reader is often an editor, and that editor, in many ways, is like a baby sitter . You are trusting them with your baby for a period of time, a time in which you both will live your seperate lives, and hopefully grow from a writer to an author, from a book to a finished product.

No-one said it would be easy.

And so, here are three (irrational) reasons why it’s hard to trust an editor — but also why you really should.

1. Your book (baby) is special (and don’t forget it, yeah?!)

Every writer deep down thinks their book (baby) is special, that there’s not another like it, and that it’s the most precious thing in existence. Yes, you know there’s room for improvement (there’s a lot of growing to be done), but that doesn’t matter to you one bit. For the building blocks are there for a perfect novel, and it can do nothing wrong in your eyes until its fully grown.

The editor sees it somewhat differently. Yes, they might love the story (nearly) as much as you. Yes, they might see its wonderful potential. But unless they are an Ouma, who would smother it in kisses for ever and ever amen, an editor is objective and can see it for what it truly is — a baby. All babies need work after all.

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2. You gave birth to this book (so appreciate it, yo!)

This book is part you. You grew it carefully inside you every day for many months (years even!) You gave up booze and ham and soft cheese (well, at least you may have given up your social life), and you ejected it from your body with not a minor amount of pain and labour. It was no mean feat, let me tell you. And to hand over this creation to another is like letting a stranger in the birth suite. And you don’t want no-one in there, believe me!

It’s private, revealing, personal. It’s tender and delicate and impressionable. It even holds within it a small part of your soul. So be gentle with it, please!

But you know what? A good editor knows that too, and they will be gentle. It’s totally in their best interest to keep the writer’s essence shining and allow the voice to sound out strong above the words. What benefit would there be for the editor to rewrite the entire book, or make the writer feel all trampled on? No benefit at all. And they have neither the time nor inclination.

As for the red pen. It’s a myth. In most cases, initially at least, an editor will simply make suggestions to make the book more readable. Like character development, additional scenes, expansion on themes or plot. It’s not all cut, cut, slice, I promise. Your baby will come back alive.

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3. No-one understands my book like I do (it’s deep, man)

It’s only you who knows what the book is trying to say. For somebody else, there’s a serious chance it could be misunderstood.

It might scream and cry to no avail, or it might demand you come home early.

After all, it’s only you that knows how often it needs its pages wiped, what it eats and drinks, and how much it sleeps, right? And when it comes to emotional connection? Well. Someone other than you has no chance.

Oh dear. Let’s be honest here, shall we? If the editor can’t understand it, then no-one ever will. Not your mum, your husband, nor your dog. Not even your myriad of fans. And what would be the point of writing it, if no-one ever ‘got it’? What a waste of time and effort.

Once again, you need to know that the editor is objective. They can see what doesn’t make sense. They can make it read better, remove jargon, reconstruct those cumbersome sentences. They can pick out all those grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that you haven’t spotted, despite reading it through several hundred times.

It’s the editor’s job to make it readable. And if that means asking you to explain, until they understand the meaning, then so be it. Suck it up.

And remember, dear writers, your book is only a baby for a short while. So enjoy it, spend time with it, love it, and be proud of it. One day, it will be a grown up out in the big bad world. So prepare it properly and let it fly. An editor will give it the strength it needs.

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I haven’t quite got to this stage yet with my book, but – as an editor – I know how hard it can be to hand over. Fear of ridicule, failure, exposure – after so many months of hard work, it’s a blimin’ tough thing to do. But I would say to those who have yet to do it:

LOVE YOUR BABY, GIVE IT EVERY THING IT NEEDS; THEN LET IT GO AND BE AMAZING!

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PS. Don’t you just love the baby pics? 🙂

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