Ania Ahlborn is a welter of contradictions–a funny and warm woman with disarmingly wide anime eyes and a charming elfin appearance who writes absolutely terrifying horror novels. Her first, Seed, was a self-published Amazon smash bestseller that caught the eye of Big Publishing and launched a career that now includes eleven novels and novellas. Her most recent title, Dark Across the Bay, is a special-edition limited release deluxe hardcover.
I asked Ania to share her biggest challenge in editing her own work and how she overcomes it, and her thoughtful answer delights my editor’s soul.
Once upon a time, I found glory in first drafts. There was exhilaration in creating something from nothing, in breathing life into characters that tumbled in a free-fall from my brain. It was there that I found magic—the first step of what I quickly learned was a long and arduous process. Now, older and wiser, the first draft feels less like magic and more like a bad movie; it could be good but falls painfully short. Character dialogue that could be brilliant fumbles, lacking poetic cadence. Scenes lack urgency. Characters don’t have the luster they need to pull the reader along from page to page, from sentence to sentence, from word to word. Now, having written more books than I ever expected, I pine for the moment when I can stop the torture of a first draft and start the bliss of editing. Once, I found magic in the first draft. And yet, somehow along the way, I transformed into the quintessential example of an author who hates to write but loves to have written.
For me, the first step is reading the manuscript, not as the author who wrote it but as the audience it’s intended for. First drafts are murky and riddled with missteps. When you’re finally able to consume the writing you’ve produced not at yourself but as a reader, a different kind of magic unfolds. The fog lifts. The path clears. The pitfalls become almost alarmingly obvious. The clouds part, angels sing, and enlightenment occurs. However, the challenge is to be able to see your work through an unfiltered lens, have a veritable out-of-body experience, and become someone else to expose your mistakes. At this point, this weird mental trick is second nature to me, but it wasn’t always. Once, when I was happiest buried beneath the imperfection of my own prose, my own opinion was paramount. I held my manuscripts so tightly to my chest, there wasn’t room for anyone else. Now, nothing bothers me more than a sentence without flow, a scene without momentum, a character without proper motivation, words without weight. Editing is the salvation of a lusterless story. But to see the faults in your prose, you have to surrender your ego. Hold your work loosely. Make room for your readers who are, in the end, more important than you.
All editing is a challenge. One of the biggest obstacles is to see your work through the eyes of someone you’ll never meet and will never know. Once you accept that your book exists in its own space, that it no longer needs you to draw it out of the ether, that it needs readers—not an author—to live, you’ll be fierce with the red pen. When you can wield that pen with the ferocity of your harshest critic, your work—blood, sweat, tears, and all—will unfurl its wings and fly.