For the last month, I have been editing my book. I’ve added about one and a half chapters of new material to what I had, but the majority of the work to get my manuscript ready for its deadline has been re-working what I wrote last spring. This work has revealed much about my initial way of putting words on paper/computer, and how writing a book doesn’t necessarily resemble the shorter writing I have done in the past.
So Many Words
First, a book is long. I needed a minimum of 50,000 words because that was the book size I had promised, that all departments of the publisher are preparing to design and produce. The chapters I had that were more or less “finalized” already were between 5,000 and 6,000 words each, so multiplied by 9 chapters, I should have been right there. But some of the chapters were significantly less polished than I had remembered leaving them before my summer of full-time parenting and frequent travel. I managed to write some short pieces for publication during those summer months, but there were no periods of time for focusing on the overall arc of my manuscript. Plus, not having heard anything from a publisher in months, I was feeling a little deflated about the project, and gearing up to send it elsewhere when I heard from Church Publishing in mid-July. So the editing did involve one entirely new chapter, and significant work on one that was more of an outline than a readable chapter.
I regularly write short pieces between 500-2000 words, so 5,000 words that all hold together somehow are a challenge. I broke each chapter into about 3 sub-sections to make it manageable. I prize being concise and pithy, but trying to reach that word count for each chapter means that I sometimes indulged tangents or left in less insightful explorations. The dynamic of going into enough detail to be meaningful, while applying broad enough strokes to paint big ideas is one I am still trying to navigate. In the editing, I had a bigger problem: the big ideas of each chapter are related – as they ought to be in a book – and kind of bled into each other after awhile. Since writing a chapter at a time over multiple months last spring, alongside shorter pieces for publication on the subject (to build my “platform”), and even teaching an adult Sunday School class on the topic, I reached a point this month when I could not sort through in my brain whether a particular story or biblical reference sounded familiar because it was already in the book, or because I had used it elsewhere outside the book. My husband Stefan was a great help there. Reading the full manuscript with completely fresh eyes, he could point out several instances of overlap (once within the same chapter!).
Writing Is Not Preaching
Besides the online pieces I write, I am a preacher, and while that can transfer to writing skills, it is also a very different form. I’ve been preaching weekly now since mid-September while serving as a “bridge” interim pastor. I have been surprised by how many of the new sentences (in those 1.5 new chapters, but also new paragraphs here and there) I have written would work better for preaching than perhaps for reading. When I’m preaching, I can pause for emphasis between multiple clauses in a run- on sentence, and get my point across just fine. I can begin multiple sentences with “But” or “Because” and it is emphatic, not poor form. I can use the passive voice without losing the hearer’s interest because of my delivery, whereas on the page I have had to re-route all the passive voice to active instead. When I preach, the italics or underlining or exclamation points are made by my voice! The style guidelines from my publisher actually specify: no italics, underlining or ALL CAPS and “no more than 2 exclamation points in the entire book.” I have had to work out alternative methods of exclaiming and emphasizing strong statements.
A Writer Needs Readers
Other readers have been a very helpful part of the editing process. First Stefan read the book in its entirety, offering encouragement and constructive criticism. I sent out half of the chapters (the ones I was most concerned about) after editing for grammar, to friends who are themselves clergy mothers. They offered suggestions too, from details like: “Who is the ‘we’ you are referring to in this part?” all the way to big picture responses like, “It doesn’t smell like super-sessionism to me.” Feel free to Google that one. It was very helpful to have additional readers who could let me know if something is clear, even if one is not inside my head. The book is designed to be read by clergy women with their congregations – with discussion questions for each chapter – so readers’ own anecdotes will add to the content.
It has been a challenging, thoughtful month. Somehow, working very part-time at the bridge interim congregation (preaching, officiating at funerals, visiting people and encouraging the leadership) has dove-tailed well with this editing process. It gave me the break I need to come back to the manuscript fresh, and the permission to not say “yes” to too many other things during this month. I also suspect that turning in my manuscript is not the end of the edits. In the informational packet from the publisher, the time-line includes 8 weeks of editing, following the deadline. But my contract stated I would turn in a complete, polished manuscript, so I have. Stay tuned for more adventures in publishing!