How Do I Edit?

Benjamin Solah added a post by the same name – How Do I Edit? – to his blog earlier in the week. I found it interesting to read about how someone else tackles the editing process and then I started thinking about how I would answer the same question. I admit it isn’t easy to answer but I’m going to have an attempt at doing so. This might end up being a long post.

My answer relates to novel length manuscripts. To make my answer less complicated I will talk primarily about my current project – Mirror Image – but the steps below are generally what I do for all my projects.

When I start a new project I usually create a document, setting the page specifications to conform to publisher requirements, and save the document in a folder with the same title as the manuscript – in this case Mirror Image. This folder will be found within My Writing folder. So the location would be… My Writing>Mirror Image and the saved document would look like this… Mirror Image V1 10.1.09. I like including the date as it is a reminder of when I started writing the story.

When I move onto the second draft (or first edit of the completed manuscript) I will save the document as Mirror Image V2 29.5.09 and version 1 will be moved into a new folder within the Mirror Image folder called Old Versions. I don’t like clutter or the risk that I might open the wrong version by mistake and not realise what I’ve done. However, I do like to keep old versions in case I go mental and ruin a story by over editing it…or heaven forbid, I delete it by mistake (this hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility is always there). All future edits will be handled in the same way until I end up with a lone document entitled Mirror Image Final 15.7.09. This is the version that will be submitted to publishers.

But how do I get to that version?

The first edit is always done on screen. I read through the document making minute changes such as typos and easy to fix plot errors. I make notes about the not so easy to fix plot errors or character inconsistencies. My only thought in this first edit is to get a handle on how the story reads and you can’t do that if you spend months fixing mistakes, so I want to read the story through in no longer than a week or two.

The story firmly planted in my mind – major mistakes and all – I then let the story sit for a while. Not too long as I find I lose momentum. A couple of weeks to a month is generally long enough. During this time, I’m still working on the story mentally. I’m thinking about how those major inconsistencies and errors can be fixed. Do I need to do a bit of replanning? Or do I need to rethink my characters? Is more research required? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions then I’ll get started on that, otherwise, I’ll just think about how to make everything more realistic, smoother and truer to what has been planned.

The second edit is where the major changes take place. Depending on what the problem is I might follow a single thread and change it before turning my attention to something else or I might attempt to make all changes as I work my way through the manuscript. In the past I have removed characters, inserted new ones, deleted plot threads as well as created them and I have deleted entire scenes, rewritten others completely from scratch and adding new ones. Editing can be a complex, time consuming procedure, but a writer must be prepared to do whatever it takes to improve the storylines and plots within a manuscript. It is hard work and often monotonous.

At the completion of the second edit, I’ll move quickly into the third edit, which is a repeat of the first edit – mainly fixing up typos and minor errors. Again, I’m concentrating on how the story reads and how everything fits together.

Once this is done, I will consider asking readers opinions. With Mirror Image, someone I trust to be honest and constructive has asked to read it when I’m ready to share it. However, with other projects, I normally turn to writers I know and places like Critique Circle (which was more than helpful when I got to this stage with Cat’s Eyes). I find the feedback from readers invaluable and the manuscript always improves because of it.

Depending on the feedback given, I may have to repeat edits two and three above.

When I’m satisfied that the manuscript has been polished to printing stage, then that’s what I do. I print it out and read it (with red pen in hand). I’m always surprised by the number of typos I still find, but that’s the way of a writer.

Unless I discover something terribly wrong with the manuscript, in which case I could possibly have to do edits two and three all over again, which would be unfortunately at this stage, I would now move onto what I would hope is the final edit stage.

This is when I read through the manuscript, yet again (usually on screen), and make adjustments to anything that I feel isn’t quite up to standard. I will make the changes noted on the printed copy and I might even try to improve word usage (if I think it’s required). With luck, I will be happy and that will be the end of the editing, however, sometimes more read throughs are necessary. How many? As many as it takes!

So, for me, it wouldn’t be unusual to do at least six edits on a novel length manuscript. This is, of course, if I get the storylines and plots just about right on the first draft. Major problems will mean additional edits have to be done. I think I average eight edits for most of my projects.

A Writer and Her Armour

Crying in public is not something I like to do. I feel it’s giving other people power over my life as, inevitably, I must explain why I am crying and that, in turn, suggests I need advice. When that unasked for advice is given, I feel as if I am allowing another person to get closer to me than I feel comfortable with. Crying in private alleviates this problem. However, sometimes it is impossible to control emotions. This morning, on the train, was one of those times.

I was reading and editing Mirror Image. The scene was based on a real experience of mine and as tomorrow will be the anniversary of the real event, I guess the glorified scene and what happened in real life merged and affected me. Honestly, I couldn’t stop the tears! It was so embarrassing.

Luckily…I was in the carriage on my own, but we were quickly approaching a station where I knew passengers would enter the carriage and I’d be seen all tear stained, red eyed and pale. And I could only hope that my mascara was on my eye lashes and not spread across my face!

As predicted, other people joined me in the carriage as I sat staring out the window, blinking rapidly, and trying to stop the tears. I took several sips of my tea (I now have a traveller’s mug) and soon the emotions ebbed away, leaving me feeling a bit drained, but otherwise fine.

However, being a glutton for punishment, I wasn’t prepared to stop editing the scene because I still had an hour before I had to shutdown the computer and exit the train. I didn’t want to waste that time wallowing in self pity and wondering what a sight I made. So, being a true champion, I continued reading (and editing) the scene once I had regained my composure. The emotions were still there, but I now had better control of them. Also, the other travellers didn’t seem to realise that the girl in the corner had been a basket case when they settled themselves into their seats for the morning ride to work. To them it was just another day and I was just another person.

Crying in public is something I try to avoid because I don’t want to draw attention to myself. The scene I was reading will be a scene that will always make me cry, as the real life event it was based on was traumatic and will never leave my memory. Mirror Image is a manuscript that has a lot of me in it and if it ever gets published, I will be standing naked in front of a world of strangers. How will I feel about drawing attention to myself then? Honestly, I don’t know, but this story needs to be told and the urge to get it finished is stronger than ever so the occasional public crying session is inevitable.

Thankfully, I’ve finished that scene and have gone onto more sedate scenes…for now. But another scene, later in the manuscript, could well have the same effect on me. In fact, I know it will. Since I already know I’ll be on the same train when I edit the scene, I will try to use today’s embarrassing crying session to armour myself against a repeat of today’s performance. A thick wad of tissues won’t go astray either.

I am a writer. I must do what has to be done to get the manuscript finished and this includes polishing my armour. I didn’t realise this until today.

Looking for an Agent

For a long time, I have attempted to get published without the aid of an agent. Why? I’ve always had mixed feeling about them and preferred to go it alone.

The positives: They know the industry and the agents presumably know them, so that will get my manuscript(s) on more desks. They know what is normal and what is not in publishing contracts, so presumably they will get me the highest royalty payment obtainable. Having an agent would be like having a secretary, which presumably means that queries and full submissions are always on the go, instead of when I have time to fit them in.

The negatives: The agent doesn’t do any of this for love, so a portion of my royalty payment (in the region of 15%) will be kept by the agent. The agent will also require a contract, but can I be sure I’m not being diddled in some way. I’ve heard horror story where agents sit on a manuscript for the term of the contract, without doing a thing!

And there are probably more that can be added to both of the above.

Being an unpublished writer, I figure I don’t have a lot of choices. I know from experience that publishing companies are squeezing out unsolicited manuscripts and using agents to cull them instead. There are very few companies that are interested in looking at unsolicited material from unknown writers of children’s works, and even less for adult fiction.

I could self-publish, but I don’t want to. Not this early in the game. I might be vain, but I honestly want to experience the joy of receiving an acceptance letter (or phone call) from a third party. I guess that means I want confirmation that my writing is of an acceptable quality.

I would like to say that I put a lot of thought into this, but I didn’t. I believe that my opinions about getting an agent has been slowly changing as the months progress and I knew that, at some stage, I’d have to bite the bullet and do it. Yesterday is the day I stepped over the line and today I announce that I’ve sent a query email to an agent regarding Cat’s Eyes.

I feel more nervous about this query (which isn’t even a submission) than previous ones. I can only imagine that it’s because of uncertainties of my own feelings. None the less, the query is gone and I intend to follow through with other queries if this one is unsuccessful.

Edited on 28 May 2009:

The company is Curtis Brown (Australia) Pty Ltd and I received a lovely reply email asking me to submit the first three chapters, which means I’m over the first hurdle and approaching the second.

The submission was posted yesterday afternoon.

Edited (again) on 19 June 2009:

Read about the rejection here.

Is it a novel or non-fiction?

At the recommendation of someone who is very dear to me, I am currently reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The person who recommended it couldn’t praise it high enough, so I had to find out if I agree with the praise.

I’m almost a third of the way through the story and I can see why it earned praise from this special person of mine. He doesn’t normally read novels as he prefers to learn while he reads. This means he’s very much a non-fiction reader. The Da Vinci Code is right up his alley as there are huge chunks of “reference book” type information (or there has been in the portion I’ve read). Hence, he felt as if the novel was teaching him something so he enjoyed the story immensely and didn’t see it as a complete waste of his time.

I, however, find that “reference book” information to be dragging the story down. I love novels! Although some of the information is interesting (especially the stuff on PHI), I feel as if the author is trying really hard to share his research results. Hey look, I found out all this information in order to write the book and now you have to suffer reading about it too!

Honestly, from my point of view, including obvious research material with the story was a bad idea as the story is jolted and interrupted by the research. I, for one, find it difficult to become involved in what’s happening and this is generally how I measure a good story. If the same information was dealt with less obviously, I think the novel would be much better. I’m getting to the stage where I’m seriously thinking about skipping over the research sections and just reading the story. If my overall experience suffers because of it…so be it!

I’ll do a proper review when I’ve finished the book.

Sorting the Scenes into Chapters

Part of the third edit of Mirror Image involves sorting scenes into chapters. When I wrote the first draft I didn’t bother worrying about chapters, which is unusual for me as I usually have a clear idea where each chapter starts and finishes. However, with Mirror Image I have no idea and I’m finding that something which should be easily decided is quite the opposite.

Mirror Image is one story told from a number of view points. By this, I mean the individual scenes, when put together in the correct order, often contribute to one overall scene which starts with one character, moves through several other characters and nearly always finishes with someone else. It’s like you and two friends telling the world what you all perceive from the situation you are all in, at the same time. Just because you are in the same room, doesn’t mean you are seeing what’s happening around you in the same way and you certainly wouldn’t be feeling the same emotions (generally speaking).

Anyway, I’ve been fumbling through the edit, trying to break the individual scenes into chapters and I’ve been feeling totally unhappy with my progress. Then, this morning, I realised I was doing it all wrong. Instead of “chapters”, I should be thinking in “days”. As soon as I thought of this, the job became a lot easier because the days in Mirror Image are kind of like a count down to an important event (and I use the term loosely). It’s important to show the reader where the characters are at on the timeline and what better way to do that than by grouping all the scenes from one day together. Hopefully, it will leave the reader feeling as exhausted as the characters. More importantly, it will impress on the reader how quickly life changes.

Mirror Image is proving to be very different to anything else I’ve written. I see that as a good thing and I’m definitely learning to think “outside the box” as I progress through the writing and editing of this manuscript.

Book Review: The Love Knot

The Love Knot The Love Knot by Elizabeth Chadwick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although it took me longer than usual to read this book, there’s a good reason for it. The Love Knot by Elizabeth Chadwick is a historical romance and the author has used a style of writing that fits with the era of the story, which is the 12th Century. Because of this, it meant I had to read slower than normal in order to grasp the meaning of the words and take the story in. This sounds like a hindrance, but it wasn’t. Apart from the fact that, like everything, it only took a short time to get used to the writing style, I found that it gave the story more authenticity.

I have always enjoyed a good romance story and this was one of them. A true romance, in my opinion, has a real story behind it. Something that is interesting with characters that you would want to befriend in real life. I tend not to read the sloppy romance that has no substance to it and is filling with cardboard cutouts that are meant to be characters because those types of books are simply not interesting enough to keep my attention. The Love Knot was far from being sloppy and the romance thread was only a small part of the story as a whole. I really enjoyed it.

The thing I especially liked about this book was the history. I’ve always had an interest for castles and knights and everything that goes with it, so I didn’t start reading this book with no knowledge of the period. However, as the story progressed I found that I was not only interested in the romance blossoming between Oliver and Caitlin, I was interested to learn more about life in the 12th Century. It was clear that the details had been thoroughly researched by the author and that goes a long way with me. It helped me settle into the story and “see” the surroundings through eyes that have not been tinted with a rose colour, which so many medieval type stories are these days. The author showed the dirt, the hardship, the death, the pain, but she also showed how the people of those days were able to find contentment with what little they had. I appreciated that.

The Love Knot is a story worth reading. I recommend it and I’ll be keeping an eye open for more books by this author.

In Remembrance

My dearest Barry,

It’s been three years. I miss your smile, your laugh, your hugs but I cherish the memories you gave me.

Love you always,

Falling into the Cracks

Since moving it seems I’ve falling into the cracks and I don’t have much to do with people anymore, especially on the internet; but also in real life. I imagine the people I once had a lot to do with are saying “well, she moved away from the area so what does she expect?” and I accept that. However, instead of moving out of the area, I feel as if I’ve moved out of the country. Or maybe even to another planet!

In my own defence I think it’s important to remember that I am rudely awoken at 5am on work days (which is five days a week for me). I leave the house at twenty to six and I don’t get home again until 7pm. I eat, try to stay awake until 10pm then go to bed. It’s a long, tiring day…week, to say the least. Luckily for me my two favourite pastimes are reading and writing, because I can do both of these on the train. If I couldn’t I wouldn’t be able to do either as there’s just no time in the evenings (besides, I’m too tired) and the weekends are filled with other things – family things, mostly. So I’m counting my blessings where that’s concerned.

Last night, someone said to me that getting the internet would be pointless (for me). I wouldn’t have the energy to go online during the week and, again, the weekends are full (although some internet activity on my part would most definitely occur). I understood what was being said and agreed in the most part.

I do have internet access from work, but…my workload must take priority. Pains me to say that, but I really do need the job. Some days, and that is most days at the moment, all I do is check my email and quickly update my reading progress on Goodreads. I don’t have time to browse sites and make comments, write posts or even do any research. I write the posts for my own site whilst waiting for reports to print or the scanner to do its thing then I quickly come online post it and shutdown again.

It may seem that I’ve turned my back on people, but that isn’t the case in the slightest. All that is happening is that I’m trying to learn to deal with a new set of rules and routines. I do visit sites I’ve always frequented and read the last couple of posts when I can, but I just don’t have the time to leave a comment.