Recently I received two tentative acceptances from different editors asking me if I could rewrite the respective story submitted to them and giving me a lot of commentary to go on. Since the two stories were very different and I’d mostly only been subjected to line edits before that, it was a real learning experience.
What I mainly learned is that rewriting is hell. Or maybe more like the limbo from the movie Inception. You’ve already gone through the hell of writing your story, digging it all up inside yourself, getting it out there, creating those – hopefully – amazing structures that tie it all in together. And now you’re condemned to wander through this city of yours, pulling down a building here and there at random in order to make the skyline more appealing to someone else, viz. that *~!% editor. There may be aesthetic considerations, word choices that are questioned, but it may just as likely be that the editor is questioning where you were going with the story in the first place. You’ve got to pull down what might – for you – be landmarks in the story’s creation and what it means to you. All part of the job and the joy of writing, right?
In my case, I had a 2k story that was fairly straightforward and a 5k story that was a more sprawling affair, with lots of narrative threads that had had to be brought together and which I’d spent a lot more time on down there in limbo, building the structures to support it. The editor on the 2k didn’t question the story’s general direction, but had a line edit in almost every paragraph, with her own proposals for improvement. The editors (there were two of them) on the 5k liked the story, but rejected the ending out of hand. I would not only have to rewrite at least 500 words of ending – I’d have to rethink the whole story, unravel threads of reference, etc. Tear down those buildings.
Which one was the rewrite from hell? The 2k.
After thinking about it, I realized this had to do with the respect an editor shows the writer. The editors in the second case trusted that I had just gotten lost (as writers often do) on the way to the end of the story, but they trusted that I could tell that story with enough work, and they would let me use my own words to do it. The first editor seemed bogged down in having me say it her way, and whenever I sat down to it the work was teeth-grinding because I felt I had to defend my way of expressing myself.
The 5K revision was a lot more work, but it was joyous work, because the editors were on my side, working with me, helping me out of the woods. It made the story stronger, but most of all – the story stayed mine.
I can only hope I run into more of the latter kind of editor in the future.