The Editor Gets Edited

When I began to write my memoir six years ago, I did not imagine how long it would take, or how much give and take, and revision, would be involved.

I finished a complete draft of About Face, A Journey to Self, in November 2012. Sent it off to my agent thinking I was done. But I was in for a surprise. I had worked for five years, tinkering, revising, sweating over every verb and noun, not to mention the structure and tone. Buy my agent said, “Why don’t you have a professional editor look it over; there are some repetitive passages, and it’s always good to have another set of eyes on a manuscript.”  

How could I refuse? I had had a handful of trusted colleagues read the manuscript, but I hadn't paid a professional editor to edit it.  Even though I myself edit books, I also know that everyone - everyone - needs to be edited. But who would I choose? I knew many exceptional editors, but I didn’t want to hire someone who knew me and my work.

I thought of the teachers at Antioch University Los Angeles, where I studied for my MFA in creative writing. I didn’t want to hire anyone I had worked with directly, but there was an adjunct professor in fiction – Christine Hale – whose residency workshops were exceptional. I emailed her: “Do you do developmental editing?”

She said no, but her husband did. Mc McIlvoy is a retired creative writing professor and founder of the Warren Wilson low-residency MFA program, where he still teaches. He has been editing books for thirty years.

We talked on the phone, and I realized his philosophy on editing was closely aligned with my own. I hired him the next day.

For the past four months we have worked on my memoir. I sent my original manuscript, which he critiqued. Then we talked for an hour. I went back to revising, and sent it back to him a month later. Overall he read the work three times, and we talked about his suggested changes and my revisions twice more.

Throughout, I was variously encouraged, despairing, exhausted, sick to death of it, and ultimately, thrilled with the result. The book has become the memoir I had envisioned it could be, and I needed Mc’s keen eyes and sensibilities to help me get it there. It is fuller, deeper, longer – and revising it involved copious amounts of wine and tears.

Each time we’d talk, Mc would say, “Now, where can you go a little deeper with your mother … (your dad) … (your surgeon).”

He made structural suggestions that strengthened and bolstered the narrative. He offered precise comments throughout that guided me to specific places that needed attention. He was unerringly supportive and encouraging. I think he walks on water, and I highly recommend him. Moreover, I will return to him with future books. (Here is his website.)

I sent the revision off to my agent last week. We’ll see what he thinks. Meanwhile, wish me luck. And keep writing!