February 26, 2024

Diary of a Novelist – Editing

“Writing is re-writing” – this is the mantra of all creative writing teachers and workshop leaders. The theory is that lots of people can write a story, but only a select few can hone it until it becomes a wonderful story. Or maybe the theory is more like – it’s OK if your first version is crap as long as you know why it’s crap. So to teach creative writing is to teach recognising what doesn’t work.

Funnily enough, lots of writers find it excruciating to get the first draft down on paper, especially if it’s a novel and it’s likely to take you the best part of your life. Most writers tell you they much prefer the editing, the re-writing, the artful deliberation over cutting and switching, the adding of prepositions here and there, and the removing of adjectives (everyone hates adjectives).

I don’t like editing much. That’s not to say that my first drafts are by any means perfect. I just prefer the excitement of producing something new, of seeing the twisty, turny thing that inhabits my head (that’s the story, fyi, not my alter ego) taking on life on the paper. For me it takes a lot of false starts and juggling and trying out as I go along – that’s the kind of editing I enjoy. I have recently rediscovered the joy of writing the initial draft by hand and transposing it onto computer, honing as I go, to make a better, already pre-edited first draft. This also helps me to engage with the words, seeing the same font on the same screen over and over again makes it near impossible to really take in the words.

In the end, though, editing comes to us all. The grueling re-reads and even more grueling re-writes. This week I prepared the manuscript of my debut novel for the publisher. That’s the worst kind of editing. Making sure the chapters, paragraphs and dialogue sections are laid out in the way that reflects your meaning and style, you can’t expect a copy editor to be a mind reader after all. I have deliberated over whether to start a new line, whether to indent, whether to italicise, and everything else imaginable that nobody else will ever notice or care about.

Now the manuscript is gone, I have to admit there is a huge amount of satisfaction in finally letting go and deciding that, for better or worse, the text is finished. I’m actually not regretting anything (yet), but what comes next is all new and mysterious and I have plenty of time to muse over the fate awaiting my story when it’s finally released to the world later this year. I’ll be posting more ‘diary’ entries to keep you updated on all the grisly details.

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