I’ve been very busy with The New Project. I have typed ‘The End’ three times now. But that’s never enough. I’m quite sure that about fifty per cent of the work I do on a book happens after I’ve typed The End for the first time.
Editing is the process of going back and having another long, hard look at what you’ve written, then reading and re-reading and re-working pretty much everything.
Editing involves taking large chunks out and re-writing them again and again and even several more agains. I’m generally killing off characters (because I’ve created too many, not because I’m writing a crime novel!), deleting whole scenes and going about all kinds of painful surgery.
Sometimes I think I’ve never quite worked out what I’m writing about until I’ve given the manuscript two really long and painful edits.
‘The first draft of anything is sh*t,’ according to the legendary Ernest Hemingway and it’s probably true of lots of things in life. Your first attempt is usually rubbish and you just have to take that on the chin, knuckle down and make it better.
Writers don’t edit enough.
Because it hurts!
We’ve written this huge epic; we’ve breathed life into our characters; we’ve woven this whole elaborate storyline, now we don’t want to change a word.
But in the editing, this is where the really good work begins.
I love that word.
Honing is when you sculpt and shape and cut and trim until only your best work is left and all the other not-quite-good-enough stuff is transformed or simply deleted.
The plot comes into focus.
The lesser characters sidle out of the way.
Deleting whole pages… whole chapters… whole characters, honestly, it’s liberating: try it!
I’ve never managed to delete a whole book, but I have ‘parked’ two… they’re in the files, tucked away on my computer and whether or not they’ll come to life one day, we’ll have to wait and see.
Editing, like piano practise or losing tennis matches or any kind of grind and defeat, reminds me often of the deep wisdom in Samuel Beckett’s line:
‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.’
The more I edit, the deeper an understanding I have of my characters. I start to know and love them, I begin to realise not just what they’re doing, but why.
I fill in the gaps and the back story, creating characters who feel quite amazingly real to me.
When editing your work, keep going, because I promise you will find, glimmering in your heap of words, a few paragraphs, or even one whole scene that already works, that gives you goose pimples, or shivers, or a lump in your throat because it’s so emotionally charged.
You got it almost right the first time, it just needs tidied and trimmed and then left alone.
Of course, you have to beware of over-editing. You have to be able to spot the moment when it’s all right, time to step back and take your showstopper up to the judging table…