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Sunday, 25 March 2018

How to Edit - well, to start with...

So, you've finished writing your novel! Well done! You should now have in front of you, a file of around 75,000 consecutive words! Some of them make sense! Some of them may even be good words like 'sussuration' and 'castigate', two words of which I am particularly fond but find little excuse to drop into conversation. And I am sure you think that these 75,000(ish) words are ready to go out in public, where they will undoubtedly draw the praise of many, the attention of a few, and possibly the finances of a publisher.

But hold your horses there. It is, and I hate to tell you this, extremely unlikely that your book is ready to be seen unescorted and out alone yet. It, like a three year old, may appear to be perfectly functional in all ways, but is still incapable of crossing a road or whipping up a cheese souffle. In fact, you may discover that it isn't even a proper book, but we can sort that out in the edits.

Firstly - put it away. Honestly. Somewhere you can't see it or smell it. A locked box in the bottom of a filing cabinet (you can put a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard' if it makes you feel more comfortable). At least six weeks should do it.
If you understand this reference, you are My Kind of People
But as long as you can bear it. Whilst it is marinading in there, write something new. Or go on a long holiday - anything that distracts you.

When a decent length of time has passed, withdraw the book and sit down with a big red pen (or highlights open on your computer) a bar of chocolate and the curtains drawn. DO NOT tell people what you are doing. They will Ask Questions, which is very offputting. Now read through your book again, and make notes as you go (hint, if you want to know how bad things really are, do a word search through your manuscript for little modifiers like 'just' . Once you've passed the 200 mark you can scream if you want).  Remember what I said about your characters having to grow and change? And every word moving the action on or developing the characters? Be honest now, can you really say that they do? Do you have four page descriptions of locations (or, even worse, clothes)?

And then, sit back, and think 'why should the reader care about this?'

Now, eat the chocolate. You can despair a bit, if you like, it's natural. You are also allowed to think you've written the worst book ever in the history of books, and that's including that four page illustrated 'Store of The Heghog' you wrote when you were seven.
'A captivating tale of nature' - your mum
But, admit it. There's a few sentences in there, a few descriptions, where you think 'that wasn't too bad'. Maybe the characters are wooden and don't behave like real people but there's this bit where they.... and that's not too terrible. Maybe the storyline still strikes you as unique. There's...just....something....

Now, quick. Make notes. Capture those 'somethings' that stood out for you. Circle them if you have to. Scribble all over your page (it's easier if you've printed it out for this bit, we've all ruined lots of laptops doing this). You will end up with things like 'why did she say this here? Why not earler?' and 'where's the caravan gone?' and, if your handwriting is like mine 'habble flib con not won argon'. Which you can decipher later.

What you will end up with is lots of coloured circles, post it notes stuck on, chocolate stains, scribble, tear-stains, turned down corners and a notebook where you have, hopefully, written ideas. Oh, and lots of chocolate wrappers.

But the main things is - you've got something to work with. And, if I don't get distracted, next week I shall help you with that.


Terri Nixon said...

Brilliant! (the plans WERE on display!)
When you reach the end of the process described here, what you will also have is a writer who knows they've got what it takes to push on and see the whole damned thing through! Great post, as always!

Rhoda Baxter said...

six weeks! I have to go back and edit almost immediately. But then, I write scenes out of order and generally behave like a sleep deprived person when I write, so my first drafts aren't even proper first drafts.
I do let them marinade for a bit after that though.
Great post. Well done. I hope you had biscuits to celebrate.

Sue McDonagh said...

Still trying to work out that first photo and worrying that I'm not your kind of person 😢

...whilst sniggering at the caption on second photo, and agreeing with everything else.

Jane Lovering said...

Terri - Yes! I think it's the willingness to self edit that sorts the actual writer from the 'person who thinks it's practically perfect but that the publisher will sort out any errors when they edit it'.

Rhoda - I think it depends how you write, some people do very rough drafts that are more like notes, so their first edit is some people's first draft? I am also guilty of having written things and then, when I go back to write the next bit, I can't remember having written the bit before...

Sue - it's a still from the TV series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! The 'Beware of the Leopard' quote is from that. (I am quite sure you are my kind of person anyway).

Lesley Cookman said...

I got it! Thank goodness. The dressing gown gives it away if nothing else.