Writing is exercise for the brain. There are lots of different versions of this exercise, but I am looking at fiction writing as a marathon. I’ve just finished my first literary marathon with the completion of the first draft of my novel, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ Initially, I had thought that this would be the hard work done, but oh no my friends, there is another marathon to run straight after you cross that finish line, keep on running writers.
And this marathon, in my opinion, is the hard one. You’ve already done one, who wants to do another without a break?
The editing stage is a very hard process in the life of your writing. You’ve already created something that is living once you’ve finished that first draft, maybe you’re quite attached to it or love it just how it is… but it’s often not just for you is it? You’ve got to delve into your writing again and alter, edit, criticise and cut.
I have found it easiest (as with many things that are hard) to break this editing process down into a few different stages. Firstly, I have two friends who will assist with my editing, who will lend a new eye and a fresh perspective to my writing which has consumed me for more than a year now. It can be very difficult to get a critical perspective and distance from your own writing which is crucial in enabling you to edit it professionally and accurately. Therefore, these assisting editors can be helpful, if not invaluable. My completed text went to one editor first. It came back with squiggles and scrawls all over it commenting on grammar, those missed typos and the occasional plot cohesion hint. I took this, took a deep breath, made corrections and considered the plot hints.
Having done these changes, I then went through the entire draft myself, in a quiet room, sitting alone and being very unsociable. This is what you need to do. Run through the whole text in a few sittings and see if it works. What I was looking for was further grammar and spelling errors and general typos. Importantly, I was also spotting those sections that naturally happen whilst writing… you get carried away with writing and then, reading back, you see that the section is just not necessary to the development of the story or the character. This is important. If there is a lot of faff that doesn’t need to be there, be brave, and cut it. You won’t miss it in the end. A reader would be bored by reading it. If it’s a particularly nice passage but it’s an idea that you just didn’t expand as you had initially intended, then note it down for inspiration for another time. Always do this editing with a note pad beside you. Jot down notes of what you might want to expand on; perhaps there are ideas that are more poignant later and could do with fleshing out at the beginning to better lead up to it or signify/ signpost it. A healthy dose of foreshadowing! Make a note and mark the page. And yes, edit on a hard copy, it changes your perspective so you’re more likely to notice mistakes, and anyway, it’s better for your eyes and I find it more enjoyable! Your ideas of how the story runs together may change when you read it in this way having written it all. It may not flow as smoothly as you had imagined, you may need to alter chapters, change tenses, insert entirely new chapters. I am planning to do all of those things… I did say this was another marathon.
This is the stage that I have got to now. I have done my second edit, which is my first official one after completion and after the fleeting edit following a friend’s advice. I have a page of notes; lists of what to check, compare word spellings, coherent use of italics, expansions and ideas for that all-important additional chapter. You must consider your audience when editing. You know your work, you’ve seen it come to life and could probably recite sections by heart. Your audience, however, cannot. Do all you can to help them see what you see and understand why you love what you read. Make them work for it though, they can piece things together, I know I like doing that when I read.
My next step in the editing stage will be putting larger sections into the novel which add to the development and cohesion of the story. It will then be passed to another friend who is very excited about getting into her Cambridge English Degree shoes again and getting out her red pen. I am quaking in my slippers! I will treat her like a publisher or an agent, so I will get my novel to the best of my ability before she reads it. Then there will be the final edit, then bring on the literary agents!
Yes, it’s a marathon, but just imagine that glistening finish line!