Sunday, May 8, 2016

The seven commandments of editing

I hate to admit, but it's almost been a year since I finished the draft of my second novel "Teaching Tom", a stand-alone sequel to "Teaching Tori".

It was about eleven months ago when I first converted the draft from my writing software into a word document. I don't usually do this until I am confident that this is the end of the first draft.
So, that means that I've been editing for eleven months now, which is a bit mind boggling and depressing at the same time. Of course, I haven't just been editing.

Here is what I've done:
1. I've re-read the draft over and over, starting with the intention to edit, but then being sucked into the story (which might be a good sign) and then giving up mid-way because it was too hard to fix up the storyline.
2. When plotlines became unclear, I stopped.
3. Every time I came to a part I didn't like, I highlighted it, leaving it for the next read-through to deal with it.
4. I skipped missing scenes, putting comments in like 'THIS NEEDS TO BE ADDED', to write another day.
5. I highlighted superfluous scenes, with comments like 'WHAT'S THE PURPOSE OF THIS SCENE?' or 'THIS SCENE DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!!', to deal with another day.
6. I took a break because it was too hard.
7. I didn't do any writing or editing.
8. I put the jolly draft away and started writing a novella, tentatively called "Beneath/Under the cabbage tree".

This was all very well, but I was getting fed up with this novel and with myself. Maybe it was better to give up and forget about this whole writing thing.Why bother when it was such hard work? And wasn't this all supposed to be a fun hobby?

But the drive to keep going, to not give up on those 120,000 words (don't worry, we're down to 84,000 now) was stronger. I hadn't spent a whole year writing this draft, pouring my heart and soul into it, and eleven months of revision, just to ditch it.

I decided I needed some editing rules for myself if I ever wanted to finish this project.

So I came up with these seven commandments of editing that I now force myself to read every day before I start editing:


1. Pretend that this is the last edit – no postponing of work that needs to be done. 
2. Each scene to be revised and edited and polished before you move on to the next.
3. No highlighting and saying “I’ll come back to that later”.
4. If you have to rewrite a scene, do it now.
5. If you have to write a missing scene, do it now.
6. Make the decision about each scene then and there – no procrastination.
7. Be brave – make decisions to cut. 

I am happy to report that since I started this, editing has been far easier, more enjoyable and more focused. As I finish editing each scene, it gives me great satisfaction to add edited 8/5 underneath to keep track of where I'm at. My own version of almost-instant gratification, I guess. 

The always-present naysayer in my writer's brain now says "You're only up to page 55 out of 253, of course it's going well, because this is the part you've already read and revised the most, so just you wait 'til you get to those highlighted parts or the ones that say THIS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE, it's not going to be plain sailing, and what makes you think that suddenly editing is fun and easy? You don't honestly think you're going to ever finish this novel, do you....?"
At this point, I tell the naysayer to shut up.

And it works. So far. 

How do you contain the editing beast? Do you let it lose freely? Or do you set yourself editing rules before you start? I'd be very interested in reading how you deal with editing.

4 comments:

  1. Oh yes, *that* voice...

    I make a cup of tea or hot chocolate, or I bribe myself (I can have a piece of chocolate after I have edited x number of pages), I play Evelyn Glennie or thunderstorm white noise, I tweet that I'm editing for some accountability, and this time, I've put the book on preorder so it *has* to be done!

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    1. I really like the chocolate idea, Zee! You're very brave to put the book on preorder. I've thought about booking the professional editor for say, July, but haven't been brave enough to do so yet. Maybe I should actually do that!

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    2. Oh... I did that too. I booked her in (and was actually two days late, oops) but it got my first rounds of editing done before they would have otherwise.

      Brave or stupid! I was notorious for doing assignments last-minute, but I'd often do well in them, so I know deadlines work for me. A pre-order is about as scary as a deadline can get, so I don't have an option. Whatever works, right?

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    3. Yes, nothing works better than a little bit of pressure...As long as it is self-imposed!

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