Most people hate editing. Why? Because it’s slow, repetitive, tedious and every other adjective that is synonymous with boring. When editing you’re not making progress. When you’re the reader or the viewer, you don’t turn back for the most part. You don’t read a chapter of a book and put it down to discuss the themes and dynamic of that chapter, you move onto the next one and finish the story. It’s the same with movies. You don’t watch Die Hard (greatest Christmas movie of all time!) and pause it to analyse Hans Gruber’s lines. Editing is despised because it’s going back over what you know.
This is where I differ from most people. I enjoy editing. Writing four or five edits of the same work doesn’t faze me. The way I see it is that it’s just part of the process and in many ways, the most exciting part of the process because it’s when the manuscript starts to turn into a proper, free-flowing story. As you can probably tell, I am heaps of fun.
I’m going to talk you through my editing process for the manuscript I’m working on (another day of editing and I’ll be ready to start submitting. Very exciting!!!). Following that I’ll give five tips for editing. So, my work.
I started this manuscript over a year ago. As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, it’s the project I submitted in order to be accepted on the Curtis Brown Creative Online Writing for Children’s Course. I finished it in June or July and then started editing. The big thing I realised from taking the course was that my style was poor. Very poor. I do wonder about the reason why I was accepted onto the course in the first place. Maybe it was because the plot had potential or maybe it was because I was the youngest on the course.
Anyway, I needed to change style. That wasn’t that easy to do. I tiptoed around it for a bit and then got back into college which slowed my progress even more. One thing I’ve come to realise is that why the mechanics behind academic and creative writing are largely the same, the results produced are completely different and the two don’t compliment each other all that well.
In mid-September I got the news that one of the students who had been on the course with me managed to get an agent. While it wasn’t a surprise given the quality of her work, it gave me a lift and I got back to writing.
The first thing I did was change the Point of View. Instead of writing in third person, I wrote in first person. My plan was then to go back and rewrite it in third person but I realised that first person worked so well, I stuck with it. If you can follow that paragraph, then kudos to you.
The manuscript has also grown from a standalone into a series. Both the change in number of books and Point of View can be worrying. It could show a lack of initial planning but overall I think it’s just a case of finding how the story works best through trial and error. Of course, it’s not good to make it into a series just to appease your ego.
So, I started rewriting in the first person and by December I had 20,000 words completed of my what was then a 75,000-word manuscript. My final essay was due on the eighteenth. I got it finished by the eighth and returned home to get cracking on with my writing.
I finished translating it into first person. Then I read it and made adjustments. This was a full rewrite. (I write on a laptop rather than by hand) I printed it off again. Read it. Made adjustments. Put it into the computer. Deleted five chapters and came up with new, better scenarios to replace them and edited and read and adjusted and so on.
It has been pretty non-stop since returning home and the amount of rain that fell in Ireland helped me since I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything other than write. I think it’s safe to say that what I have produced now is completely different to what I submitted a year ago. Funnily enough, today marks exactly one year from when I first sent in my submission for Curtis Brown Creative’s course.
It’s my fifth completed manuscript and the fourth I will be sending to agents since I started writing seven years ago. In other words, I have done a lot of editing. My tips? Keep on reading to find out.
You Have To Do It
Like I said, most people hate it. Even in college, people can’t stand the thought of editing a two-thousand-word essay. Tough. It has to be done to produce high quality work. A couple of years ago I told someone that I needed to do editing for the manuscript I was working on at the time. Their reply was, “I’d just get it right first time”.
See that isn’t how it works. If you’re writing 30,000 words, there are going to be mistakes. If you write more than that, then obviously there are going to be more mistakes. Grammar and spelling alone will be terrible. There could be elements that you want to change, whole chapters moved around and discarded. Characters exterminated. Plot holes filled. The initial writing is the easy part. It’s the editing that is challenging.
Also, imagine if that was true. Can you picture J.K. Rowling just flying through the Harry Potter series like they were nothing? It’s preposterous.
It has to be done. If you want to get published via the traditional route, it’s essential. No publisher or agent is ever going to accept an unedited manuscript. And if you decide to self-publish, no one will read it if reviews come back saying your work is difficult to read and clearly it hasn’t been edited well…or edited at all.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking your manuscript is the next best thing since sliced bread. It may well have the potential to be that, but after the initial write-up it’s probably not worth the paper it was written (or printed) on.
Don’t swan around thinking that every part of your book is perfect and sure, that chapter is a little slow and doesn’t progress the story in any way but I have a lovely description of how the petals float in the lake and how the rain sinks them and blah blah blah.
If you have to make excuses for a part of a book to stay in, then it may well not be right.
It’s difficult for some people to criticise their work because they realise in doing so they are criticising themselves. For bubbly optimists it must be damn near impossible. But it’s essential.
Develop a thick skin and cast a critical eye over your work.
Kill Your Darlings
I’m not talking about kill off your main characters, although that is good too. I mean really have a look at your favourite lines. It ties in with what I said above but if there is a line you love. A line so beautifully fluffy and poetic it rivals the greatest quotes from Dickens and Wilde and Hemmingway (people tend to include names like these to show they are intelligent and well-read…in actual fact I’ve never read Hemmingway and have only read a book and a bit of Dickens and a play and a book of Wilde’s. They just seemed to fit here) then it is probably useless.
Not useless as in the writing is poor, but it probably doesn’t fit. It could jolt the reader out of the action. It might be you writing yourself into the story. You love it so much you want it in the story but the story doesn’t want it.
Especially if you’re writing for children or young adults, don’t waste their time with exposition and pretentious rambling. They’re not interested. They want a fast-paced story that delivers.
Get The Dialogue Right
When it comes to children’s, MG and YA (I should just make up some acronyms now) the dialogue has to be good. Writing for adults is slightly different as you can get away with long, meandering passages of exposition. With younger audiences, as aforementioned, that is a big NO-NO.
According to various sources online MG or YA books should be 75% dialogue. I feel really sorry for the guy who had to figure that statistic out. 75% seems like an awful lot and I thought so too, but as I got into the habit of writing with dialogue, it wasn’t as far-fetched as first thought.
I remember seeing Derek Landy on Irish TV once doing an interview. He was asked what made his Skulduggery Pleasant series so successful and he claimed that his dialogue was very strong and witty. I read the books. Turns out he was right.
If you are struggling with dialogue and don’t know how to make it work, read his books. They are fantastic and really helped me to switch my brain on to writing engaging dialogue.
Spending time on getting the dialogue right is essential.
Enjoy it. I know I’ve made it sound like a lot of work but really it’s not that hard. It’s just looking at your work and being honest. And at the end of it all, you’re improving your work. You’re making it better and turning your story, the story you have dreamed up and nurtured, into something publishable.
Think of it in these terms: it’s the literary equivalent of all that New Year’s Resolution nonsense of “New Year, New Me” and if that doesn’t help, remember that it’s actually easier than changing yourself.
If you’re not having fun, your work will suffer.
Thanks for reading. I hope I haven’t made any errors in this piece, otherwise it’s a bit ironic to be writing on editing. If this helps in any way do let me know by dropping a comment in the box below. If you would like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and on Facebook by clicking here.