Me, and the Queen of Hearts: Split Author-Personality Syndrome


This little word puts the fear of God in a lot of writers. #amediting is an oft-seen hashtag frequently accompanied by wailing and proverbial gnashing of teeth. Many authors, me included, confess to a certain amount of dread when it comes to editing.

I wonder why. Because when it comes to it, I perversely enjoy it. Ignore the initial pain and frustration; once I knuckle down, I find the process quite exhilarating and ultimately rewarding.

My work process involves two broad types of editing. ‘Me’ editing, aka the author edit. And publisher editing, aka… well, publisher editing. Right now, for my second novel, I am working through stage one, ‘me’ editing.

Having let the manuscript rest for a good few months, I have taken another good, fresh look at it and got the red pen out. Why? Well, for one, I had to. I know Sophie’s Run is at least twenty-five thousand words too wordy for commercial publication, so they had to go. And second, because I wanted to. I felt the need. With a bit of distance, I wanted to go through my work and make sure that it still zings for me. There are certain things I learned from the publisher edits of Sophie’s Turn that I wanted to apply rightaway. I’ll talk about that some other time.

Me. Myself. And HER.

Today, I want to talk about this weird split personality that I have discovered. There’s me, and there’s The Other. My Inner Editor. She of the Ruthless Cutting Mindset. The Queen of Hearts.

So, the cutting. The bloodlet. That’s the part I dread and fear most. And yet surprisingly, it’s turning out to be quite easy. I appear to have grown a second head, one that is dispassionate and detached and ruthless. An Inner Editor has quite unexpectedly and without invitation taken residence in this new, second head of mine that isn’t even attached to my normal pair of shoulders. I kid you not—that’s exactly what it feels like!

I might be reading along merrily, quite enjoying myself, when my Inner Editor pipes up, quite brusquely—not to say, rudely—and instructs me to cut, cut, cut. “Can’t you see,” she’ll tell me in no uncertain terms, “that while this scene is fun, it’s also just excess fat? It doesn’t advance the plot, it’s not necessary. Take it out. Use it some other time.” Honestly, she really is like the Queen of Hearts, all Off With His Head (or rather, Out With The Scene!). Thus out come the scissors, and my office floor swiftly resembles a cutting room floor.

Me… and HER. Isn’t she scary?
Would *you* argue with her?

She’s usually right. It’s not that what I was written was bad, or wrong. On the contrary, I am quite often deeply attached to the scene in question. But if it’s not essential, then it has to go. If I can transplant the joke somewhere else, I will. If I can tell it in fewer words, I shall. And the end result: a pacy, fast, page-turning read (if I say so myself) that is better than it was before.

How much has she made me cut? I don’t know yet. I was going to start putting these edits into my manuscript in Word but owing to a small computer crisis, I’ve had a small delay. I can tell you, though, that I have cut at least four chapters; that there isn’t a page without at least five lines crossed out; and that a lot of excess verbiage has been clipped. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ve culled the required 25K but I don’t think I’m far off. And there are a few scenes that I have point-blank refused to take out (yet) even though Inner Editor was spitting with fury at my ignoring of her very relevant suggestions. These are my back up, my cushion, my fall back. With those, I will scrape over the all important finish.

I’m zinging with zest. I have this tingling in my toes that tells me I’m on to a good thing. The book feels sumptuous yet lean, luxurious and fast. Thank you, Inner Editor, and please forgive all the abuse I hurled at you. I love you, really.

Of course, this isn’t it. When I’m done, Sophie’s Run goes back to Sapphire Star again; my lovely publisher, has, of course, already read my second masterpiece, but now it’s time for the full-on, no holds-barred, all-out publisher edits.

Bring it on!

How do you approach editing? Do you have your very own Queen of Hearts sitting on your shoulder?

19 responses to “Me, and the Queen of Hearts: Split Author-Personality Syndrome

  1. Viz editing, after several of my own rounds, my Beta reader told me that while the writing was beautiful through out, it could do with losing a good chunk of words. I was aghast lol. But he was completely right. Like you I pruned scenes I loved but that didn’t actually progress the tale, and as you’re now finding out a lot happens in Gunshot Glitter, it can’t afford any flab, however well it’s written. I think I shaved off about 50-60 pages?

    I thought I was done when I gave it to Lisa Jewell, and she made a few excellent suggestions about proportion and pace in a few early chapters, which only after much brooding and a revisit, I realised she was right about. I’d say that the thing to do with a manuscript is to not assume the parts you wrote first and polished & polished, are necessarily ‘complete’ until you see how they then fit in the overall finished result, if that makes sense? It’s easy to whizz by them, as they read so smoothly.

    I learned so much about editing with the behemoth, much like you did with yours. I am extremely curious to see how I tackle novel no 2. Though a part me still isn’t quite ready to let go of the world of Gunshot Glitter : ( I’m veering between ‘I want to write a new book’ and’ I can’t believe Gunshot Glitter is finished!!’

    • Pruning, now why didn’t I think of this lovely word? Thanks so much for visiting and commenting and sharing in the pain, and the satisfaction. If you’re asking… I’d have to say, get writing book 2!!!

  2. Love this post!

    I have a very split personality (or partnership?) as I first edit myself, and then I read my co-author Ron’s edits and have to agree / disagree / integrate those, too. The result is *always* better but the process, I find, can be painful!

    Sometimes Ron, wearing his editor’s hat, just picks up a phrase where I was lazy with my description, and I get a “You can do better than this, Jo!” comment lol. (To be fair, that’s usually on the first draft, when I’m typing frantically, trying to get the story ‘out’!) But other times he spots a flaw in all the threads which hold all our characters, concepts, parallel worlds and metaphysical ideas together. That can be head-scratching time!

    We’re finding the editing for the first 76% of Mosaic of Light is taking ages – both because I’ve done a structural edit, formulated background / series documents (the downside to writing as a pantser but then working on a series) and also because we’ve been focusing on short stories, and editing *those*! We just need extra hours in the day . . . !

    Have I shared in the pain? Or just added to yours?! 😉 (Hope not!)

    • Not at all added to mine! Sharing is halving, or something like that. I too need extra hours in the day. Really interesting to get a look in at how you guys manage the editing process between you! Thanks for visiting and commenting, as always; you’re a star!

  3. What a lovely analogy. I know what that cutting feels like. Perhaps your Queen of Hearts will lead others to theirs. Thanks for sharing this. Great picture by the way. ;0)

    • Hi Bev, thanks for visiting and for your lovely comment. Glad you understand–it’s quite freaky having the Queen of Hearts on your shoulder, LOL. Thrilled you like the picture, I was a bit taken aback at how scary I can look! xx

  4. Yet another fab post, Nicky. Queen of Hearts! Love it! I’ll be hearing the “Off with her Head” line in my mind all day, I’m sure 🙂 I know I’m still slogging through Book 1, but I’ve definitely benefitted from setting it aside and coming back later. Many a word has been swiped in its prime, I can tell you! A trusted friend, who’s read chunks of my novel here and there, also picked up on my repetition of certain words. She said : ” I know they are “you” words, Jan, and not necessarily bad ones, but you need to wield that axe, woman!” And she was right. I don’t mind editing at all, like you, I get a buzz from knowing (or hoping!) that I’ve made a scene punchier/clearer. I so love that you’re zinging with zest. Zing on! That’s what I say 😉 x x

    • A kindred spirit! A fellow Queen of Hearts! So glad you enjoyed the post and identified with the sentiment. Makes me feel less weird! Thanks for visiting and understanding, and good luck with your own #amediting… XX

  5. I usually do some of my own editing after not having looked at my full manuscript for a while; and when I do come back to it, is usually with a “new” set of eyes. Unfortunately, using my sense of sight over and over on the same material creates a situation where familiarity breeds contempt and I no longer can see any others which might be there. Knowing what words are coming next, my eyes merely skip over them. When this happens I turn to my sense of hearing and I read everything aloud so I can actually hear what my words sound like; it’s amazing how many errors you can pick up. While reading a manuscript aloud is fine, given that you’re quite familiar with your own voice so might miss a few errors along the way. A better way of using the sense of hearing is to get someone else to read it to you; the reason being is that you’re more attentive when you’re hearing someone else speak. The problem here is finding that someone to do this reading for you. Unfortunately the person least willing to do this reading for you will probably be your other half, but such is life.

    Anyway, getting to my own split personality, I find it a great thing to have. It’s fun discussing which way to take my story as each one of us logically debates why it should go one way and not the other. The truth is, I hate it when my other half wins the debate; but then again my other half tends to be correct more times than not.

    • Ha, Robin–I hear you! **spooky** Love your thoughts, especially on the familiarity. Have you tried transferring your MS to an ereader? It’s amazing how that alters perception of what you’ve written. Thanks for commenting, as always, you totally ‘get’ me. x

  6. Can you send your Queen Of Hearts editor over to me, Nicky?! I could do with an inner editor like that! She does look very scary in the picture!
    I’m one of the authors who hate, hate, hate editing with a burning passion! Admittedly, it feels better after I have done it, but I question and re-think everything I have cut out! For Kismetology, I cut about 12,000 words from the second draft to the third (the third was the final draft before sending to be copyedited for publication) And just this week I have finished my first round of edits for the next book – but I already knew that it was too rambly and that lots would have to be cut out. I was prepared for the cull, and it did make it a bit easier!

    • You hit a good point here, Jaimie: I think it does get easier. You get the confidence that you can do it, having done it before. And also you get to learn your own little red flags… Thanks for commenting and good luck with No 2!! x

  7. What a great post! And a timely one for me – as I’ve just sent my revised ms back to my editor, having cut out huge chunks of what she had kindly pointed out was well written descriptive narrative that slowed the pace of the story. She was right of course – but until she had pointed it out I hadn’t seen it that way myself – I had been too busy waxing lyrical and happily exercising my poetic prose muscles. So thank goodness for my lovely editor Kit, who is my Queen of Hearts today!
    Janice xx

    • Ooooh the knives are out today… or rather, the scissors. So glad that Kit got your cuts underway. What’s that song? “The first cut is the deepest? ” **Note to self: might have added that to the post, doh!** Good luck with it all, Janice, and thanks for visiting. I feel I have to qualify my ‘zinging’ euphoria here… Of cousre, this is only Stage One of editing. Goodness knows what the lovely SSP editor will find!!! (I’ll post again when I have more info on that, LOL!) XX

  8. Excellent description of the painful and yet exhilarating editing process. I find I am much better at editing other people’s work, though, rather than my own. Perhaps because I am a bit of a disorganised first drafter, and therefore have some quite substantial changes to make and holes to plug during the edit. I am sure that once I do a second edit, it will be much, much easier!

    • Second edits do get easier! And self-editing is hard, but a vital part of the process as far as I’m concerned. Thank so, so much for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it–I know how busy you are! Rock on, honey. X

  9. Hi Nicky – what a fun way of describning what can be a bit of a slog, but one that just has to be done. Once I get into my own editing head, like you I quite like it, but once or twice on going back to the book I’ve seen that some scenes or incidents dfon’t have enough – I actually sometimes add stuff too. But then the new stuff needs an edit of its own.
    Am I mad? Aren’t we all? 😉
    Ali B

    • What’s that they say? “You don’t have to be mad to work here **insert workplace** but it helps…” We’re all mad writers! Yes, the subject of adding things in… That usually happens in the publisher edits, and I find that easy to accomplish, hard to juggle with the word count, LOL! Thanks for visiting and commenting today, Ali. XX

  10. Love this post and think the Queen of Hearts looks very appealing, not scary at all. Great to hear editing titbits. I’m such a newbie at this writing lark, I had to force myself to edit and found it really hard to get stuck in. Once in, it’s a great place to be. xx

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