Editing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Having just emerged from the murky depths of structural edits, and sent the results back to my publisher, I’m in the perfect place to think back and appreciate the value of a distanced eye, and the insights it can provide.

As authors we live in constant state of waiting, even as we’re scribbling fiercely away on our next book: waiting for the nod from agent or publisher that our proposal is a goer; for a contract to arrive; for the first look at our cover design; for the go ahead to reveal news, titles, covers, release dates; and, most nail-biting of all, for those edits. We hover over our inbox, imagining every scenario from a glowing, “it’s gone straight to copy edits,” to the heart-sinking: “I’ve attached a 10-page document with extensive notes.”

Much as it can be a bit disheartening to see a beloved manuscript questioned deeply, I do find the editing process itself an exciting one, particularly the first round, before I even send it away. Having completed a first draft and seen the fully-rounded novel my scrappy set of notes has become, it’s so satisfying to go back and tidy up loose ends, clarify motivations and, now that I know them better, enrich my characters with their own quirks and favourite sayings and behaviours.

The first thing I try to do, if I have the luxury of time, is to put it aside for at least a week before even looking at it. Then I read it through in one quick go, making notes in another document – either by hand or on screen – and trying not to get caught up in the minutiae of typos and sentence structure. The story is the important thing at that stage, making sure it all hangs together, that there are no plot holes, and that your characters don’t behave out of, well, character!

Now it’s time to go back and make changes, and it’s a wonderful thing to see how everything suddenly slide into place. At the risk of using a tired old cliché, it’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle; first of all you’ll notice missing pieces, and you have to do the literary equivalent of searching under the table; or a wrong piece of sky has been wedged in, out of desperation and a desire to complete at least part of the puzzle. You’d planned to go back and swap it for the right bit, but somehow you forgot until you’re left with a piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere.

Finally you have the completed picture in front of you, but it’s bumpy in places, where some of the pieces aren’t lying flat, so your final job is to make it look pretty from top to bottom, and send it away to your agent, publisher, or beta-readers.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books