Writing a novel is the fun bit – you let your imagination roam, you live in a half-daydream state rich with colour and imagery. Your days are spent doing what you love best in the world – playing with words, expressing your inner self, conjuring up a world that makes you fizz with longing, excitement and attraction.
Then comes the editing. Now the author must take off her cape of romanticism and dreaming and getting lost in the rhythms and flow of the language, and don her sensible, structural, organisational, critical hat. It’s a hard transition to make, but essential for the best end result.
|Literary Gift Company mug|
When I write a novel, I separate the writing and the editing phases, to allow me to change tack successfully. I immerse myself in writing for months and months, and during the writing I do a little editing, but I save the bigger picture work until later. Once I finish writing the book, I usually put it away for a period of time – a few weeks, or perhaps more – before revisiting it and re-reading it three times. I look at aspects such as setting, characterisation, pace, structure, plot and language. This stage necessitates plenty of coffee. (I recently came across the Literary Gift Company’s mug on which is written Go away I’m writing editing, which I think will be ideal to get me through the revision phase!)
Then comes the difficult step of giving the manuscript to others, and requesting their feedback. I’ll ask friends and family to read the book, especially those with experience in writing. I value their input, and I carefully consider all suggestions. Some I may carry forth; some I may reject.
Then comes the really intensive editing phase – that which is carried out by the professional editor in the publishing house. The editor has a fresh view on the book, and a wealth of experience, so I respect and appreciate her recommendations. During the edit we tweak the text here and there until we’re both happy with the final manuscript.
The editing process, therefore, is a lengthy one, and is not for the faint-hearted! It’s not always easy to let go of a passage of text you so enjoyed writing and love to read, but as an author you need to be able to step back and see how that passage works against the whole of the book. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘There is but one art, to omit.’
I put any cut material that I really like into a ‘Maybe in a future novel’ file, so it’s not lost forever, just moved. Perhaps one day I’ll post some of the passages that didn’t make the final edit on this blog: a kind of ‘extra’ like you find on a DVD.
To close, I’ll leave you with some of my favourite quotes on editing which I kept close by while working through Burning Embers revisions.
- The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty… but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible. – Edward Blishen
- When in doubt, delete it. – Philip Cosby
- In art economy is always beauty. – Henry James
- The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. – Mark Twain
- Re-writing ripens what you’ve written. – Duane Alan Hahn