Continuing my series, Evolution of the Book, this is a story of the all-consuming edits I began just after I got my first book deal. This is when everything still seemed salvageable.

Just back from vacation, and a lot of people have asked me, “How was Paris?” And while I had a fine time, my memory of this vacation has been all about editing my book. I got my edits back two months ago. And several weeks later, when I was able to pull myself out of the fetal position, I went to work, unstringing all the beautiful sentences I thought were finished to do the tough work of trying to make the book bigger and better than the original.

Editing a piece of writing is very much like taking a knitted sweater and having someone say, “Only small changes, really. Just re-do this bit in the shoulder. And maybe use an alternating color every other row.” And you know very well that this means you’ll have to unravel the entire sweater to make those changes, and once you have a pile of yarn, you have to trust that it will be a sweater again. That it will be a sweater that blows the original out of the water.

Luckily, while I was still in shock and calling myself stupid, failure, mediocre, and other favorite pet names I like to use, Mr. Henderson built me the most awesome, secret office, where I am typing this very blog and also rebuilding the sweater, so to speak.

To get to my office, you have to go through a wisteria tunnel.

The office is hidden in ivy.

And it has a door that’s hard to come across.

Here’s the inside. That’s Jack, one of my dogs. I should straighten that lampshade, I guess.

Maybe you noticed the doll in the window. It’s my first Barbie doll ever, and I got it this summer from the very awesome Heather Fowler. She sent outfits, too! I have to say I was tempted to cut Barbie’s hair and see what happens when you unscrew her head and stick firecrackers inside. Maybe this is why no one bought me a Barbie as a kid.

I sit at this desk for hours and hours every day. My desk is usually messier than that. And when I’m on a roll, there will be balled up pieces of paper all over the floor. (Man, I need some artwork on that wall. Over the couch, too.)

My mouse pad is a Roget’s thesaurus. I’ve had this one since high school and it’s falling apart.

I have the coolest view ever out this window. I should probably wash the window, huh?

There are little boxes all around, filled with whatever. This one has rattlesnake tails and bullet shells. Some have tampons and ponytail holders and gum.

This is a tricky section of the book, all laid out so I can see where the problem is. I keep that little bat-girl nearby because I think she’s made of the same stuff as the narrator of my book. I’ve tried to buy that print, but it’s sold out, so I’ve got my eye on Ray Caesar, and next time I love something, I won’t be so slow about it.

There you go – a quickie office tour. Mr. Henderson built the whole thing and painted it and put up the molding and sewed the curtains. It’s an absolutely awesome gift, and now I need to make good use of it and edit this little book the best I know how.

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SUSAN HENDERSON is the author of UP FROM THE BLUE (HarperCollins, 2010) and founder of the blog, LitPark, a literary playground for writers.

12 responses to “Unraveling the Sweater”

  1. […] friend, Susan Henderson talks about the editing process over at The Nervous Breakdown. Not just the general process, mind you…the editing process she underwent after she got her […]

  2. lance reynald says:

    something tells me recent pictures of the office have added layers of personality and a fullness that comes with breathtaking writing and use…and a sound system 😉

  3. Renee Thompson says:

    I love this, Susan. A fun and whimsical glimpse into your personality. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gay Walker says:

    Reading this made my day… I feel better about the process of giving birth to my own book. 😀 Can’t wait to read the finished product!

  5. Editing… I’ve technically been an “editor” for about two and a half years now, and I wonder if it’ll ever get easier. I write and I enjoy writing, but when it comes to editing, I want to kick myself in the head. It’s so freakin’ difficult. Whether I’m editing my own work or someone else’s I just find untangling those little problems makes my brain grind to a halt.

    I think I need to invest in a cork board.

    • LitPark says:

      I can’t remember who I stole the cork board idea for, but it helps so much. Particularly if you can spot where an edit will set up a domino effect. You can put all those pages up at once and kind of trace what might happen before you start changing sentences.

  6. […] day, I write for hours in my little camouflaged office, writing and crumpling up papers and writing some more. I dream of communicating something […]

  7. That box with the rattlesnake tails and bullet shells?

    Totally BAD ASS!

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