The Editing Process
THIS is the first post in a series of posts where I will explore my writing style and process, for a few different reasons. I hope by writing out my process in some detail I can identify areas where I can improve, have something to look back on when I’ve written more stories and novels, and hopefully help others gain insight into different areas of the writing process. I would also love to hear feedback from other writers no matter how far along you may be in your career or hobby. We are going to start toward the mid-point of the novel-writing process, which is where I find myself at right now. I’m writing a book I’m calling Bottom Feeders, which is about the Crabs Motorcycle Club, a group of misfits and losers fallen from grace and at the bottom of the shitheap, doing jobs for a larger club, the Devil’s Faithful MC, just to get by. It’s a mixture of crime, humour, and action and sitting at 85,000 words at the completion of the first draft. I’ll get to how I wrote it in a future post (it involved a lot of cheap notebooks and pens) but for now I’ll focus on the editing.
Like a lot of writers (and authors, I won’t call myself that until I’m published), I procrastinated a lot before I started editing. I finished my novel I think in January of 2017, and I did not begin to edit it until June. The general advice “they” give is to leave your manuscript at least a few weeks before you start to edit it so you can see it with fresh eyes. Stephen King, one of the authors I admire most, had this to say about how long to wait in his memoir and craft-book On Writing.
How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing.
Incidentally, if you haven’t read On Writing and you are serious about writing, you are doing yourself a disservice. It will make you laugh and cry, and light a fire under your ass that will get you typing and scrawling like nothing else. So, back to the editing. I waited around eighteen weeks, more than enough. Long enough that I started to get embarrassed at my procrastination, as friends who knew about my weird little hobby asked now and then whether I’d gotten around to editing my book so they could read it. So I hauled myself down to Officeworks with a copy of my Word document and got printing. It cost around twenty dollars to print the 269 A4 manuscript pages, so around the price of a novel nowadays. What I got though was more like the pulp equivalent of a lump of clay; it has the potential to become a beautiful Hellenic vase but more closely resembled a “bowl” that one makes in pre-school for mother’s day.
This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this. Blog posts and short essays and stories I’ve written in the past I haven’t really bothered to edit. My thought process was maybe that I didn’t need it for blog posts, even though it would surely help me get my message across clearer. For some tiny technical blog posts there isn’t much point, especially when they are less than five hundred words and a large chunk of the post is code. A novel is a completely different beast though. From the moment I began it, though I wasn’t sure I would finish it, I knew that someday I would need to edit it. And now that day has come I am doing the best I can. So, I don’t really have much of a plan, mainly a vague idea of what editing is supposed to involve and some initial thoughts on character revisions and plot hole fixes that I hope will carry me through until I get a better grasp on it.
I’m going through my manuscript one page at a time with pen in hand. I’m making line edits and spelling fixes (though thankfully there are not many of those) and improving continuity in my very early chapters. It will be interesting to see how my writing style has evolved as I get further through the novel, as I know it has, and it is sometimes painfully obvious to see what author I was reading while I was writing. Though I suppose that is another goal of editing; to take a babble of different voices and equalize them into your own, thus forming your own distinct voice as a writer.
I’m approaching the editing how I approached the writing in the first place. I will get so many pages edited by hand, say twenty or so, then go and put those changes into the computer. I get paranoid when I’ve written too much on paper that has not been put into the computer. In some cases I’m scrapping complete paragraphs and writing new story and dialogue to get around plot holes and inconsistencies, and taking note of anything that may need to change in later chapters as well. It’s interesting to find that some pages haven’t got many edits at all, where others are completely covered with pen.
All in all it is going well so far, though editing feels a lot more like work than the original writing did. I dread the time when I will come to a part of the book that I love the sound of yet which doesn’t fit the narrative or do anything useful, where I will be forced to “kill my darlings”. I’m excited to show my book to other people close to me once the second draft is done, and to further improve the work after I get feedback from them. And I’m sure I will look back on this post, mutter “Oh you sweet summer child”, and shake my head at my own naivety and inexperience at the end of all this.