filed under Her Mother's Secret, How To Write A Book.

Last week, in Part 3 of my blog series about Her Mother’s Secret , I talked about the process of actually writing the book. I finished at the point at which I was about to send it to my editor, thinking it was amazing and wouldn’t need much work in the way of structural editing. Ha! I was very deluded.

19 Pages of Notes

I received back from my publisher 19 pages of single-spaced notes for the structural edit. 19 pages! Can I tell you how daunting it is, when you think your book is fabulous, to receive an email like this? You literally want to hide under your desk and never come out and never speak to your publisher again because you’re so embarrassed that you’ve written such an awful book. You also want to cry. A lot.

Except you can’t. You have to come out from under the desk, you have to read the notes dispassionately and you have to remember that structural editing is all about making your book even better. Every book needs work. It would have been so nice to think mine didn’t but it taught me a big lesson about over-confidence

You’re Not a Shit Writer

What got me through this stage was a quote from author Charlotte Wood in an interview in the Financial Review. She said,

You learn that getting a hard edit doesn’t mean you’re a shit writer.

And that was exactly it. I was equating the hard edit with my writing ability, and thinking I had none. But in actual fact, when I thought about it – why would the editor bother to take all that time to type up 19 pages of notes if she thought I was a shit writer?

The fact that she thought I could handle it meant she thought I was anything other than a terrible writer – although I would have preferred for her to have found another way to tell me that!

Killing All the Darlings

So I threw out 50,000 words. You’ve heard the saying kill your darlings? This was a massacre. The floor was awash with the blood of all 50,000 of my darlings. I wrote a brand new 50,000 words to add to the 50,000 that had survived. But it actually felt good. Until I sent it back and got another 6 pages or so of structural editing notes.

But compared to 19, six pages felt manageable. So I threw out another 25,000 words. I was a lean mean word killing machine at this point. I’m pretty sure I could hear the words squealing every time I sat down at my desk, wondering which of them would survive. I wrote another 25,000 words to replace the ones I threw away.

All up I threw away 75,000 words. Yes, that’s an entire book. So, actually, this is my 5th book, not my 4th, There’s an entire book sitting in my bin.

A Crash Course in Writing

A the end of the process, I sat down and read the rewritten, cut and polished version of Her Mother’s Secret and I realised that I had, basically, in the space of 2 months, had a crash course in writing. I’d learned more than I thought it was possible to learn. I knew I was a better writer because of everything that I’d thrown out and everything that I’d rewritten and every solution I’d had to find to the 19 pages of questions.

Best of all, I finally knew what it meant to say I’m proud of my book. I hope you enjoy it too.

You can find Part 1 of this blog series here and Part 2 here. You can also now buy Her Mother’s Secret at Big W, Kmart, Target, Dymocks and all good bookshops. Here are some online links:

You can buy the paperback at Booktopia here.

You can buy the ebook at iBooks here.

You can buy the ebook at Amazon here.

You can buy the ebook at Kobo here.

You can buy the audiobook at Audible here.

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13 Responses to “On Throwing Away 75,000 Words: Editing Her Mother’s Secret”

    • Natasha Lester

      Thanks Susan! I guess I just write about things that I wish I’d known. Now so many people are saying to me that they cut lots of words in their edits too, but I didn’t know that at the time – I thought I was a bit strange. Nice to know I’m normal!

  1. Linda

    Hi Natasha
    Wow! I’m impressed with your stamina! I had no idea that you could be asked to change that amount. Can I ask whether the changes were more about sentences and paragraphs, how a scene is developed, or were there even bigger changes, such as cutting or changing characters, ditching an entire subplot?
    Thanks for sharing – your posts are so interesting and informative.

    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Linda

      It’s not so much that my editor asked me to change things, but that she posed questions to me about character motivations etc and, in addressing those questions, I decided to do the cutting. I added a whole new major character in the edit, and that was wonderful. I also had to tighten the pace in the start of the book and make one other part less convoluted, and in dealing with those issues, the cutting and rewriting seemed the best way to me to fix everything. I hope that makes sense.

      • Linda

        Yes, that makes sense, thank you! I love that approach from your editor – asking questions to make you think. I have a first draft that needs so much re-writing that I considered abandoning it, so I have found this post to be really motivational – thank you for that!

  2. Kali

    I cannot tell you how deeply from the bottom of my heart I appreciate you writing this post! Thank you, Natasha.

    • Natasha Lester

      My pleasure! Hope the editing is going okay – it’s hard but ultimately the best possible thing for the book, but you only think that in hindsight!

  3. Rachael Keene

    Thank you – I needed this. I am in the process of çutting so much from my ms that most of it will go! It’s hard to say goodbye to scenes which I loved and which were good- but not good enough to be in the best story I can write. And that is the bottom line right now.

    • Natasha Lester

      You will look back on the cutting and be glad, I promise. It feels hard at the time but as you said, it’a all about uncovering the best version of the story. Best of luck with it!

  4. Alan

    I am doing edits on my first book. Knowing that an accomplished writer like you has to struggle too gave me hope. Thank you for your kind encouragement

  5. Annabel Smith

    Great post Natasha. 75000 words, that sounds like a killer. Love the image of the words screaming in terror as you sat down! Are you going to write a follow-up post about that kinds of changes you had to make and the things you learned? I’d love to know those insights.


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