This Week I Have Been Mostly… Editing A Novel

I haven’t shared much online about what I’m currently writing. I often see authors post on social media regarding what they are working on however, due to my experiences over the last few years, I’ve been nervous to report on works-in-progress, in case they never get published…

But that’s bullshit. Failing is – obviously! – a useful and vital part of any game, including the author game. To paraphrase Clueless, tis a far better thing to do stuff, and, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, not, when you come to die, discover that you did not bother to do anything beforehand, because you thought it would be embarrassing if it went wrong…

Is the above bastardizing rather than paraphrasing? Perhaps.

When it comes to book publishing too, so much of what constitutes a ‘good book’ is down to fashion, personal tastes, and the market: not getting a manuscript published doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Some of the best writers I know aren’t published, and/or have been rejected by very well-regarded agents and editors. While Golden Boy garnered a tonne of interest with editors back in 2012, we also were turned down by several giants, who loved the book, but weren’t sure how to publish and market it. Another for instance: I recently recommended The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera to a friend. Would it be picked up if it were written today? I think it might be deemed not ‘plotty’ enough.

My UK editor fed back to us about my book last week (more on that soon), and so I was able to get to work with all my notes. When I start an edit, I usually print off the manuscript and read it to myself. Sometimes at the beginning I read it aloud, because it helps me to focus, and not to skip over paragraphs where I know what I’ve written. It’s important to read every word to see how I’ve built the story, for instance: is the voice climbing gradually or jumping jaggedly towards the climax? Does the manuscript need structural changes to aid in comprehension or tension?

I make notes as I go, with a red pen, but I try to limit them to: small typo corrections, ticks for when a chapter is moving along well, and instructions at the end of each chapter. For instance, on page 66 of this manuscript, there are two red ticks, and the note: ‘You haven’t mentioned H! Incorporate + sweeps edit. Otherwise good.’ (‘Sweeps edit’ is my own lingo. It means sweep through the chapter, checking typos, small errors, cutting lines that are not needed, and smoothing the voice to aid fluency.)

My US editor is a genius when it comes to zoning in on what a manuscript needs, and as I read, I noticed her notes summed up what was right and wrong about this draft. She said from the halfway point she couldn’t put the book down; neither could I even though I knew the ending. She said the voice and characterization of the protagonist/narrator needed work in the first half; it did and that’s largely what I’ve been doing this week. She suggested adding a character for a purpose that will remain undisclosed for not-wanting-to-do-spoilers purposes. I am adding that character. I love THEM (purposefully non-gendered) already.

That was Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, I gallivanted to London again. I didn’t have any meetings booked this time, just a vague feeling that writing would go better in the café at Foyles, and aided by downtime, i.e. seeing friends in the evenings. Switching off completely when I’m not writing helps refresh my brain. I went immediately to Drink, Shop, Do, ordered their delicious home brew, Alice In Wonderland tea, and got to work. I think by this point I had already started typing on Draft 2.

I began Draft 2 by creating a file, which I labeled Draft 2, in MS Word. I use Word because agents and editors use track changes to edit. DO NOT BUY the 2016 version. The page numbers no longer show over the scroll bar, the bar at the bottom does not show where your cursor is in the word count (eg 17,548 out of 93,456), and you cannot leave tabs open when you shut down your laptop and have them reopen when you boot it back up, all things I have on my old version of Word; all things I used daily when working and now have to do without.

I then created a second file, called Try, which I used for brainstorming ideas. One of these ideas quickly became the new first chapter of Draft 2. I started to copy and past text from the Draft 2 document into the Try document, and highlight in green what I had moved over. I do this in small chunks, a few paragraphs at a time. During initial writing of any manuscript, I allow my mind freedom to choose which part of the book I want to write at any given time. When editing, for fluency’s sake, I try to start at page 1, and progress through the whole draft. Bit by bit, I then edited the text as per the instructions I left myself in red pen on the print out of Draft 1.

Hopefully that gives you some idea of how I edit. I am by no means at a full draft, but I hope to have a Draft 3 by the end of February. This will be made up of a thorough edit for Draft 2, and (after a full read-through of a print out of Draft 2, red pen in hand) a further ‘sweeps edit’. My first drafts rarely look like my finished books, because I am not precious. I change things structurally to make them better. In Golden Boy, the Hunter character was added in a later draft, and Max’s parents changed careers and got an education at Oxford (enterprising of them, given the time frame for the writing of Golden Boy was six months from conception to sale).

There you have it: I talked about my work-in-progress. I feel vulnerable, and a little wild.