There’s One Part of the New Edition of “Looking for Alaska” I Almost Like More Than the Book Itself

blog0625 Yesterday afternoon John Green teased us with the “possibility” of Looking for Alaska movie news. Since then he has officially announced that a movie is in the works, and though he’s had mixed feelings about it since handing over the movie rights, he’s probably just as excited as we are (well, I am).

Alaska was not only the first book Green published, but it also happens to be the first book of his I happened to read. Which explains why, even though I don’t buy “doubles” of books or read them more than once (with a few exceptions), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a 10th anniversary edition.

I read it straight through, cried like a baby and felt my love for writing and editing take flight again.

There are a lot of books out there, I know. This one is probably one of my favorites though. I fell in love with it all over again—faster, harder the second time, even—when I got to the back of the book for the new edition’s “extras.” I hadn’t paid much attention to what those would be before I got there. I fell for it from the outside in, which you can’t really count as judging a book by its cover since I’d read it once before (loop hole).

What I found back there? I liked it almost as much as I liked the book.

Real-World Editing

I’ve been a magazine editor for over two years now, which doesn’t seem like a very long time unless you truly understand how much daily work goes into the process (a lot). I’ve been an “unofficial editor” longer than that, because not only do I love ideas and words and storytelling—I also love refining a finished product.

So if you have your own copy of the 10th anniversary edition, you know why I was so intrigued.

The new edition includes notes and excerpts from Green and his editor, giving readers a glimpse into the revisions process and how difficult it can be to take a good story and make it good enough to sell. I can’t remember off the top of my head how many times he had to rewrite one of the shorter, yet one of the most significant, scenes in the story (no spoilers, but if you haven’t read it, why are you here??), but it took multiple revisions to get it where it needed to be. They had to count days and keep track of dates.

To me, this was eye-opening enough to motivate me to keep working on my own book, even though I’m not working with an editor. You don’t think about how much work actually goes into a book when you’re reading it, sometimes not even as a writer. I enjoy a good story, and just because I’m an editor doesn’t mean I can’t separate my editing brain from my reading brain (though it does creep in with a criticism every now and then, and typographical errors drive me absolutely insane). I loved seeing this. I needed to see it. I’m sure not a lot of people even looked at these excerpts. But I did.

Why It Matters

While I do love the story and it really spoke to me, rereading it at a particularly rough patch in my life (I’m happy, just stuck in a rut—we’ve all been there), I’m fascinated by how stories transform from first to final drafts. It’s one of the things I love most about being an editor. I can evaluate where a writer is at the beginning of an internship semester and watch her develop her skills and improve significantly by the end, from week to week. Even from raw draft to article. I love my job because I understand what it’s like not to realize your own shortcomings until someone else offers to help you fix them up. I think novelists and their editors go through similar processes.

Green has talked before about how Alaska started and how much he struggled to get a full story on paper at first. I think this is also something else readers forget: writing a novel sometimes takes years before it even gets to the revisions stage. Editors don’t get enough credit. They’re the ones who help transform books from good to better to astonishing. I love how this edition of the book highlighted the importance of a relationship between writer and editor, even if that wasn’t the original intent (or maybe it was, I haven’t done my research, I apologize, it’s finals week—my excuse for everything lately).

I have such respect for successful authors because they’re the ones who are really willing to go through revision after revision to make their stories the best they can be. You can’t work with an editor and expect everything to be perfect the first, third or even fifth time around. Criticism can be hard to take, but you learn over time how important it is to take it seriously, not personally. I don’t ask for a lot of feedback for my own work (maybe I should get into that habit)—not because I don’t want it, but because I want to have a finished project to work with.

I’m just like you—I struggle with time management and juggling everything and trying to keep writing toward the top of the to-do list. But it took years for Alaska to become the book we know it as today, and even longer for the promise of a movie to unfold. I can wait a little longer, until the end of the week when I get a short break from school and can focus on writing and editing and all the things that keep me going (including these posts, so if you’re reading, I appreciate you, I really do).

Love&hugs, Meg

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.