Conscious uncoupling, cubic zirconia and going to the pub: more thoughts about editing

In the past month, I have read the same book seven times. I have read it from beginning to end, from side to side, upside down and inside out. I have read it on my computer screen, I have read it on a Kindle. As I go to sleep at night, I know I’m pretty well going to be dreaming it.

Yes, sports fans, you’re right. I’ve been editing.

I wrote about editing a while ago and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. You can read the old blog post here. Six months on from that post: what new insights can I offer?

1. Editing is boring

Yep. It’s repetitive. It’s pernickety. It’s less interesting than playing the Dr Who 2048 game. Even if you’ve written the most transformative work of fiction since Finnegan’s Wake, you’re going to get bored reading your own words eventually.

2. If it’s boring the first time you read it, you’ve got a lot of work to do

The boredom threshold should kick in after a good number of read-throughs, and should be because you’re bored of the process not of the story. If you’re bored on read-through number one, you’ve written a boring book. Sorry.

3. Editing is essential

Your original draft is wordy, repetitive, full of illogical plot holes and misattributed dialogue, lacking in punctuation, messy, chaotic and probably brilliant. Editing fixes the crap so that the brilliance shines through.

4. It’s up to you to make editing interesting (or you will go mad)

If you simply read your book from beginning to end, over and over, looking for things to improve, here’s what will happen: the first three chapters of your novel will be magnificent. Immaculate, polished, every word a glinting diamond. Get to the middle and you’re flogging cubic zirconia. By the end, lumps of coal.

You have to edit every page as if it were the first. So chunk it up, start reading in the middle. Pick a chapter number at random, read that chapter forensically, improve, improve, then move on to the next randomly chosen section.

It’s also very dull to read the same book on the same screen – after Read-Through Number 5 last month, I transferred the draft to a Kindle. Suddenly, page breaks fell in different places, line spacing was different. I even shifted font a few times. Anything that makes the book visually different will help you to spot things that can be improved. I had actually switched to the Kindle thinking the book was done. Nope. No, sirree. #sigh

Read in different places, read at different times of day, read with a cup of tea or a glass of wine: do anything you can to make the process of reading your book feel like you’re experiencing it for the first time.

5. Know when to stop

At some point, you can disappear up your own editing proverbial. Set a deadline. Have a plan. Stick to it. In your plan, allow time for completely ignoring your book and going to the pub. While there, you will be (a) having a lovely time and (b) subconsciously reflecting on your book. Time away from your book will make the experience of reading it again feel fresher and it will make you more likely to spot things that could be improved. But yes, when you’re satisfied, STOP and let the book live its own life – whether it’s going into the hands of readers, publishers, reviewers, agents or your other half. Consciously uncouple yourself from the book (thanks, Gwyneth). It wants to be read by other people. Let it go.Once you’ve let it go: guess what? You get to start on something new. You can unlock the creative, inventive, masochistic, obsessed, driven, frenzied, world-changing author within you and embark on a…. Ooh, a David Tennant. I’m getting good at this…

 

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