How Editing is Like Painting a Merry-Go-Round

About a month ago I decided to refinish the merry-go-round in our backyard. (Yes, it came with the house and is the kind you find on playgrounds. We also have a bouncy duck, a digger thing, and we had a 4-person teeter-totter before a drunk driver destroyed it last February.) It’d been on my long-term to-do list since moving in almost two years ago, and an upcoming house concert bumped it to top priority.


It didn’t take long before I realized that tackling a project like this was a lot like editing a novel. For those of you who don’t write, I can see how you wouldn’t make that association, but bear with me.

Step 1: First Pass

You did it. You typed those amazing words The End. You have a NOVEL. But maaaaaaaybe it’s not as polished as you’d like. So you gather your materials:

Red pen = sandpaper
Word comments = tape
Printer ink = 12 cans of spray paint

First you have to sand away the dirt, old paint, and rusty bits. This is backbreaking and time consuming, but it’s crucial to get rid of the bad parts before adding anything new.

Merry Go Round 2

Once you’ve marked everything up, do a first pass for easy changes: the handles. In this case, the base of the merry-go-round will be dark blue, so I knew I didn’t need to worry about the orange of the handles getting on the base. That detail work would come next.

Step 2: Getting Down to Business

You’ve done the easy part—now it’s time to really get to work. The reason I prefer to start with the easy changes is I feel like I’m making progress right away. But sooner or later you need to address the fact that your main character’s motivation isn’t as solid as you thought, and you need to make the hints about the killer’s identity more subtle.

Taping the merry go round

There will be moments when your head will spin with the enormity of your task, but force your way through the pain and keep going. Our merry-go-round is not perfectly level so when you step onto it, it spins so the weight is transferred to the lowest point. But it takes several minutes to do this, and since I was only working on each handle for a few minutes at a time, it basically spun the entire time I was taping. NOT FUN. But I knew I couldn’t get to the big changes—the changes that were the more noticeable—if I skipped this step.

Step 3: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Yes! You did the big changes. You’ve read through your manuscript so many times that the thought of doing it again is enough to make you rent a bulldozer and rip the thing out of your backyard. But… something isn’t quite right. Whether it’s a case of deus ex machina or just lazy plotting, you know deep down that there’s more work ahead.

merry go round is too bright!

In this case, the blue was too bright. My goal was to match the Detroit Tigers blue and orange, and as much as I never wanted to see another can of spray paint again, I knew it wouldn’t truly be finished until it was a deeper blue.

Step 4: Going Deeper

If you’ve ever worked with an editor, or even a good beta reader, you’ve heard the phrase “go deeper.” (Or maybe that’s just me.) It means to get deeper inside the character’s head, to not shy away from whatever emotion you’ve touched on or barely scratched. Or in the case of Mr. Merry-Go-Round, put on a darker shade of blue.

the finished merry go round

I still need to make a stencil of the old English D (the book cover) but at least the inside of my book is perfect.

Do you have a fun editing analogy? I’d love to hear it in the comments.







About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama. SCBWI member since 2015.


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