To Edit a Book

Stack of paper drafts with edits

I am an accidental editor.

My friend Todd Park was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in February 2013. An avid writer, he wrote entries in his blog from his diagnosis until 24-hours before his death, caused by treatment related side effects, on December 16, 2013. The blog survives as a harrowing and honest chronicle of his journey through his cancer treatment.

Early in 2014, something began to gnaw at me- What will happen to Todd’s blog? It needs to be a book but who will edit it? Who indeed. I contacted Todd’s brother John and asked permission to convert his blog into a memoir. John agreed.

I started by collecting the writing on Todd’s blog. Todd had split his one blog into two blogs six weeks before he died- the “leukemia chronicles” and the “opinion and personal” blog. I determined to bring them back together. I wanted the book to not just include his leukemia journey but also his life before he was sick, to reveal who he was as a man before this crisis.

It became obvious that the entire month of Todd’s transplant was missing from the entries. He didn’t write during that period and frankly how could he have? Thankfully, his brother did in email updates sent to family during that time, chronicling events when Todd could not. John graciously sent me copies of these emails and I ended up with an eye-popping 180,000-word pile of raw material to begin forming the book. Suddenly, I was a book content editor for the first time.

Personally, 2013 was the toughest year of my life. I had read Todd’s blog ‘live’ as he created it and when I read it again in 2014, all my memories of that terrible year flooded back. That first read through was probably the hardest part of this project. I lost count of the number of times I read the manuscript.  I slogged through it over and over- removing large chunks that didn’t fit, finding repetitive or lengthy passages that needed pruning, and consolidating paragraphs of similar theme and content.

In November of 2016, I had finished draft four at about 124,000-words and was burnt out. I simply had no idea what else to remove from the manuscript. I had become blind to errors and the passages were so familiar to me, I wasn’t sure if I was reading repeated sentences or if I simply remembered the content from the last twenty times I had read it.

Thankfully, I had an excellent copyeditor- Jim Spivey (working-vaykay.com). I had never worked with a professional editor before and I did not know what I expected. It’s not as if magical solutions are ever part of any project but I was hopeful that he would return the book to me stamped “FINISHED” on the title sheet. Alas, no. Jim found the errors, made helpful suggestions, provided an edit overview, and returned the manuscript the exact length I sent to him.

The two best things he told me were: 1) The manuscript was worthy of publication and 2) the manuscript was too long. The editing process is messy, messier than I could have guessed, certainly messier than my efficient time management would allow for, and probably messier than it had to be due to my inexperience. But he was right. I had to cut more.

Another three months passed as I slogged through the final draft, cutting with a scalpel, wringing my hands, wishing it was finished but unwilling to give up. This is the hard stuff. This is the tug at the deep fibers, the ones running straight through me. It is then that the stabbing editor’s pen tears at the paper, pages crumple, and the script gets thrown into the bottom drawer of my desk so I don’t have to look at it.

But finally, finally “Popcorn from the Void: Observations, Manic Kvetching, and the Raw Truth of Leukemia” By Todd Park came to life. It took me three years working on and off to finish compiling and editing this book. It was a difficult project in both content and length but I ended up publishing the fifth draft, coming in just over a 100,000-words.

Even at the end, Todd spoke only of the goodness of life. His final commentary was, “It has been one helluva ride and I’m grateful for a life that has been so rich and full of adventure.”

Every day- from the first to the last- we are given a choice: Do we put off our happiness to some unknown tomorrow or take today as it is? Do we decide to take up the challenge- to do the thing we think we cannot do?

I am the accidental editor of Todd’s memoir. And I am so very proud of it.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, August 2017

5 thoughts on “To Edit a Book”

    1. Hello Nichole- I am so happy to meet you, even if electronically. Your dad would say that I owe him nothing. But he supported me through some very hard times in spite of the fact that he was enduring his own cancer treatment. I was very grateful to him for those nights he was up at 2am and I was up at 2am and we could just chat online. How I miss him.

      He expressed regret at not writing the book he said he always would… and it may not be the book he wanted… but it was all there in the blog. It simply needed to be chiseled out. And I just could not tolerate leaving it undone.

      I was called by some greater purpose to this project. It changed my life and it is the final gift Todd gave me. I am so happy to know that it pleases your family. I hope that it spreads his message of hope far and wide to those who need it most. God bless!

      Like

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