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  • [Reality Check] Editing and Slaughter: The Joys of (Self) Editing with Helen Rena
This blog was featured on 05/31/2018
[Reality Check] Editing and Slaughter: The Joys of (Self) Editing with Helen Rena
Written by
Zetta Brown
May 2018
Written by
Zetta Brown
May 2018

People have varying views when it comes to editing. Some take it to the extreme where their self edit is the ONLY edit they are willing to tolerate because anyone who disagrees with them is an idiot; others define self editing as picking their own editor to do all the work.

Most of us fall in between. We are willing to edit our own work to the best of our ability, and then have others (paid or not) take a turn, but when does it stop being "editing" and turns into a crime scene because all of the excess has been skinned off your story-baby, leaving behind a shivering, crying, bloody pulp on the floor...metaphorically speaking?

Helen Rena gives us her account of walking the knife edge between killing her darlings and killing her writing. It took inner strength, and an accomplice, to slaughter her were-pigs. But was it worth it?

Read on and find out what happens...


Killing Were-Pigs and Other Joys of “Writerly” Life
By Helen Rena

Now that I've published my first novel, I can look back and be appalled at all the mistakes I made on my way there. Okay, okay, I probably still don't see ALL of the mistakes, but I see some, and here is my mistake #329--which for me proved to be the most pervasive, most time-consuming, and the hardest to eradicate. You see, I liked my imaginary darlings too much.

When my novel Into the Blind went live on Amazon this summer, I described it as a young adult paranormal novel, but it did not start out this way. Long, long ago, it began as a fantasy/science fiction hybrid for middle-graders. I had a brilliant vision for this book. There would be parallel worlds, a Hogwarts-like school, kids escaping their strict teachers, mysterious cities, and even a wicked queen. There would be mind reading and flying trains, were-pigs and sentient planets, time travel and the kitchen sink. It was a disaster, of course.

Undaunted, I re-wrote the novel, but as I did, I came up with more brilliant ideas. For instance, why not endow my were-pigs with psychic abilities? And wouldn't it rock if my protag was blind—but could still see? And perhaps I could age my characters and throw in a love interest. The novel's plot became a maze, and its page count reached a number that, were it dollars, I would have been set for life.

Yes, looking at that number, I knew I'd have to be ruthless and throw a lot of stuff out. BUT ALL OF IT WAS GOOD.

Well, after much mental anguish, I did start tossing things overboard. For better or worse, I threw out all of the science fiction elements. I said good-bye to the mind reading, the Hogwarts-like school, and were-pigs. I bore that loss the hardest. But anything for art, right? And besides, it did improve the novel, which became shorter—only a hundred thousand or so words—and much more orderly. And yet I still couldn't find a publisher.

That's when I finally hired an editor.

She was good. She asked me hard questions about my plot. So my characters go on a huge quest just because they misunderstood each other? Is that really enough motivation? And what is the purpose of the wicked queen in the story? And why do I have a blind protagonist who can see? In fact, how does she actually do that? Well, let me tell you, by then I was happy the were-pigs were history.

I spent the next year rewriting the novel yet again, but this time I forced myself to look away from all the shiny possibilities and concentrate on an emotionally believable plot. And what I got was a story of two paranormally gifted teens who were deeply in love and could have been happy together if only the boy didn't resent that his girlfriend's gift was more powerful than his. At once I knew how my blind protagonist could see: through her boyfriend's eyes. And as for the evil queen...well, she came in handy when the boy started pushing the girl to choose between him and her gift...

It wasn't all roses from there. I still got carried away now and then. But in the end, Into the Blind came together, and I am so happy and proud to see it published.

P.S. Don't tell anyone, but the were-pigs live. Because I'm still going to write something about them. :)


Helen Rena loves reading and writing novels. And short stories. And flash fiction. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature, and a vast collection of books and green bottles. She is still not sure why green bottles. She lives in southern Oregon with her husband and two children. Please visit her at helenrena.com or get in touch on:

Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/helenrena123)

Twitter (https://twitter.com/helenrena123).


Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She also provides editing services through JimandZetta.com. If you like this post, then stop by her editing blog Zetta’s Desk.


* This post was originally published in December 2014.

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  • Helen Rena

    Thank you, Cate, for your kind words about my post. I have a feeling that a lot of established authors don't like too much editing--Steven King's Under the Dome, for instance, is hu-u-uge--but I suppose they earned to feel that way. But I am nowhere near that stage and on the contrary would like to work with a good editor.

  • Helen Rena

    Thank you. Yes, it must be that time of year--right after NaNoWriMo...

  • J. Dylan Yates

    So well said!  I'd like to read about the were-pigs! 

    Just posted on this topic this week. Must be that time of year!


  • Helen Rena

    Yeah, I think they'd be cute, especially if they helped in the house. :)

  • Teresa K. Thorne

    I want a were-pig. 

  • Helen Rena

    It's a curse for me too, Kathryn. I mean editing even after stuff is published. I wish I could stop that.

  • Kathryn Edgecombe

    Usually, especially poetry or complicated bits, I write by hand and edit as I go along to chose better words.  As I am transferring that to the computer I edit again.  When it is all in the computer I read it out loud to myself and edit.  Then I read it to anyone who is unfortunate enough to walk into the room.  I save all this and leave it - over night and read it out loud again.  Edit as I go.  Read out loud again. Edit.  Leave it for a week or so the read out loud and (you guessed it) edit again.  After this it is time to find a friend who I trust and who will answer their phone and pawn the writing of to them to be my 'first reader'.  Eventually they send it back or bring it back and we talk about their ideas and - again I edit.  I have been known to edit poems or stories after they have been published.  :-S