I’ll let you into a little secret. One of those ones that will have you rolling your eyes and muttering “oh my heart bleeds for you”. You see, I’ve never properly edited stuff. Sure, I’ve read over pieces a thousand times, fixed the odd gramatical or spelling error and changed a clunky sentence, but never much more than that.
I tend to write non-fiction in three dimensions, writing and revising, the beginning, middle and end simultaneously. I’m literally all over the place, building a framework, making it solid and building it up. The end result is pretty good, good enough that editors have relied on me to pull together an article when a contributor drops out at the last minute.
The trouble is that it’s made me lazy – blog posts, for instance, only get a cursory read – and the process doesn’t seem to work with fiction for me. As I move towards completing the novel, I know I need to raise my game.
So the editing stage of the novel approached with both fear and intrepedation. I know how polished I want this novel, and yet I worried I would get bored and would put up with “make do”. I think, in reality, that fear has made me focused, and once those idiotic, irrational fears of “OMG, I’m not sure I know how to edit” disappeared I sat down to take a close look at the novel.
The start of the novel has been re-written countless times, so technically these should be the easiest chapters, with the least amount of changes. Yet, I was amazed as I got stuck in, just how much I had raised my game.
Every word in a sentence, every sentence in a paragraph, every paragraph in a chapter has a job to do. It would be the easiest thing in the world into falling into the trap of trying to make every sentence glowing purple prose. But I’m more subtle than that. Some sentences do shine, but others, they’re workhorses, getting the job done efficiently. They’re a team, each with their role to play, their mission: to convey the story to the reader as entertaining and efficiently as possible.
So clunky sentences are being reworked (indeed the first night I spent the entire evening working on the second sentence of the novel), I’m ensuring the subject of the sentence isn’t ‘it’ and a million and one other things.
And you know what? I’m really, really enjoying it.
What’s even better is that there’s nothing stopping me going back, and refining if I find something and wonder if I’ve overlooked it elsewhere. Slowly, a style seems to be emerging. I always had this image that editing was about taking stuff out, and there was a danger of editing your polish away. But I’ve found it’s more like trying to bring every sentence into focus. Sometimes that’s removing something, sometimes it’s adding things in.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m very tough on my writing. I set myself impossible standards and expect myself to reach them. As a result I’m rarely pleased, but even my inner critic can see that I’ve made huge strides in my editing. I was always told I’m a good writer, but I feel I’ve punched it up a gear or two here.
There’s probably things I’m still overlooking, further stuff I need to learn, but you know what? I’m actually really happy with the results so far. I can see the novel coming into focus, and despite readers (including an Arthur C Clarke Nominee) being very positive of weaker drafts of these early chapters, I’m only now starting to feel very happy with this book. I’m frightened to publically say how much for fear of
A) looking a fool
B) jinxing it
There’s still a long way to go, and even then there are no guarantees. But whether this book finally sees print or not, I want something I can truly be proud of. That means a lot more editing. Whether I get it done by the end of the month looks doubtful if I’m honest, but given how I keep dipping into editing without my usual procrastination, who knows?