Monday, 9 September 2013

Endless Editing

I recently saw one of those questionable-authenticity-but-carries-more-than-a-grain-of-truth-in-it statistics:

“Writing a book is 10% writing and 90% editing.”

Man, that is so true!  I’m just working on my fourth draft of B4 (code name!).  It took roughly 3 months to write the first draft – if you don’t count the year it took to write the first 5,000 words and the preceding 15 years when I just carried the idea around in my head.  The second and third drafts also took roughly 3 months each to do.

This draft is NOT going to take 3 months!!!  For a start I’m desperate to have a go at a few other pieces of writing – mainly YA (Arvon course in 3 weeks and counting), but also brainstorming ideas for future B4 books, which would make this first one into the beginning of a series.

I’ve also had September in my mind for a while as my goal month for being ready to start submitting the manuscript to literary agents.  While no one else is holding me to that, I’m going to be seriously annoyed with myself if I don’t manage it.  At the same time, I have zero intention of rushing this edit just to meet that deadline, as submitting a manuscript that’s anything less than my best would make all my hard work and learning during the last year utterly pointless.

Editing is hard work though!  It’s endless deleting, tweaking, re-wording, re-ordering, and checking and double-checking that the narrative thread still works despite the alterations.  Some days it’s feels like I’m taking a scalpel to the manuscript, making small changes.  That might be modifying a line of dialogue so it sounds more natural or fits better with the voice of the character.  Or it might be swapping a bland word for a funnier word, or adding extra comical detail – useful things I learnt at Swanwick!  As Mark Twain said:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Other days I attack the manuscript with a machete!  Last week, for example, I cut about 3,000 words – amalgamating 2 chapters and completely cutting another.  On one hand, I’m very happy that it’s improved the pace and reduced the word count to closer to what I'd like it to be.  On the other hand, I have to consciously not contemplate the fact that a whole week (or two’s) worth of writing has been wiped out with a few presses of the delete button.

The impact that cut or changed sections have on the continuity of the narrative is my biggest constant concern.  For example, I’ve deleted the opening chapter where Ben meets Miss Bitts, the Headteacher, for the first time.  Its omission means that in the third chapter when she takes an assembly, that’s now the first time Ben experiences her and discovers what a horror she is (along with the rest of the school!), rather than it just confirming and adding to his previous first encounter with her.  While the flavour and humour of the scene remained the same, it had to be rewritten to accommodate this fundamentally different situation.  Hopefully it was improved at the same time as well, as I got to caricature Miss Bitts more!

The other problem with editing is that you can get so immersed in the minutiae of the manuscript that you lose all perspective on whether it’s still working overall or not.  By the end of one editing day I’d become convinced that I was actually making it worse, not better!  Thankfully I could console myself that at least I’d left in the bits that my pre-readers had told me that they liked the best, so it couldn’t be a complete write-off :-)

So, with my Arvon course looming and my keenness to finish this draft and hand it over to my husband for a final (in my dreams!) check, I’d better go and get on with some writing!  Talking about writing is so enjoyable but it doesn’t get the job done :-)

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