The Editing Process: A few random thoughts and a small dog

dog

Here is a small ceramic dog I saw at the British Museum. I appreciated his innate dogness. He has nothing to do with this post.

Gosh, blog posts. Remember when I used to do those?

In my defence, crazy busy times are afoot. In day job world, I’ve started a new position as a copywriter and I’m currently learning approximately 800 new things a day. It’s quite fun. In writing world, I’m still busily making book 3 (hopefully titled THE SILVER TIDE, you heard it here first) in a readable state for human beings. The good news is, it’s almost ready to send off to my lovely editors. The bad news is, it may break my brain before that happens.

Since I’m here, and editing is very much on my mind, I thought I would share some random and not entirely helpful* thoughts on the process.

Summarisation’s what you need

It occurs to me that although I know a lot about how other writers write, I don’t necessarily know much about how they edit (outside of ‘remove words, make better’) so I have no idea whether how I work is normal or totally batshit.

Soooo. When the first draft is done and a bit of time has passed, I will grab a notebook (usually a soft cover school exercise book, those are my favourites for this bit) and in the back I will note down everything I already know needs to change. There are always a few things, bits and pieces that have been bugging me the whole way through the first draft but haven’t had time to go back and change. Then, I will read the whole thing through again, summarising each chapter in black pen and then underneath in red pen I will make a note of all the big things that need to change.

Now, since I am weak and unable to resist, I will also do cosmetic edits as I go; chopping out the crap, tidying things up, tweaking dialogue. There will be a few more rounds of this sort of thing, but I usually need a couple of goes to catch everything.

Then, when I reach the end, I go back to the beginning and address everything I’ve highlighted in red pen, and anything that was written in the back of the notebook at the beginning that hasn’t been sorted yet. The useful thing about having these summaries of each chapter is that when you’re looking for a particular event or character moment later on in the edit, it’s much easier to find. Also, if you’re required to write a synopsis for any reason after the first draft is done, HELLO HANDY SUMMARIES.

Oh god continuity

Truly, the bane of my life when it comes to editing. Writing a book is a massive mental balancing act, and it’s natural that you drop a few balls here and there. Hehe, balls. So when you get to chapter 30 and remember that in chapter 7 someone shaved their head, but since then you’ve been lovingly describing their flowing auburn locks… This is a particular pain in the arse if like me, your book is heavy on weapons and the result of weapons flying about. People are continually pulling their swords out (steady on), putting them away, sustaining injuries or just losing their dagger under the rubble of an exploded building, and you have to keep track of all that. What is brilliant is that eventually a copy editor will read through the manuscript and point out all the ways in which I have been an idiot but for the next book, I am going to draw little pictures of my characters and as I write the first draft I will mark, with a red pen, all the various places they are injured. I’m not even kidding.

Accept Your Limits

I find that editing exhausts my brain in a completely different way to writing. Writing feels more like a trance state, when it’s going really well – words flow, your head is somewhere else, all is good – whereas editing is more like a heightened state of awareness, where your focus is narrowed down to a tiny point. If I do it for too long, my focus starts to bleed and my eyes slip over the page without catching the things I need to change. This is incredibly annoying, especially when you’re speeding towards a deadline and you have very little time to do anything.

It’s annoying, but it means it’s time for me to have a cup of tea, or a browse through tumblr, or watch an episode of Thundercats. Or even just time to stop for the day and go and have dinner. Or maybe, write a blog post about editing.

 

 

*almost certainly not helpful

To Plan or Not to Plan, And Other Meanderings

River

I haven’t blogged for a while because I haven’t had very much of use to say. I’m like one of those Magic 8 balls that comes up with gems like “Maybe later”, “Buggered if I know”, “I’ve no clue” and “um…” when shaken.

 

So I have no useful answers to any sensible questions you might have, but I am in that sweet zone of novel writing that comes just before you start the actual writing, where the place and the characters and what actually happens are all in a glorious flux. Sometimes I think I like this stage the best because nothing is quite nailed down yet and I’m still chasing research across Wikipedia (lately I have been looking at prehistoric sea creatures, the tallest buildings in London, and how gills work), while the characters are slowly forming in the green room, arguing over the biscuit tin and making endless cups of tea (there’s a girl called Esther who isn’t sure what she is, and a grumpy boy who isn’t happy with my decisions about his hair).

 

Planning though, planning’s the bitch. How much is too much? To plan everything within an inch of it’s life, to know the outcome of every decision and squabble, or to “pants” it and make it up as you go along? These are questions I’ve jousted with before, of course, over and over, and these days I use a mixture of both disciplines – know just enough about where you’re going to get started, and then see where the journey takes you. This is the way that seems to make sense to me, but I’d love to hear from anyone who is a planning purist or a dedicated by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er; how do you approach your next book?