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This Writing Life: Diving Into Novel Edits (aka Getting to the Hard Part)

31 January, 2013

In the latter half of 2012, I made a couple of posts about starting the edits on a novel I’m so far just calling ‘Root’. Then, I posted about doing the initial read-through of the novel, and about developing my character arcs. Now I’ve dived into what I consider to be both the hardest part of the process, and the bit that contains the most actual editing.

You see, as I talked about in my last Writing Life post, ideas are the easy part, and sometimes that includes editing ideas too – namely, deciding what’s gone wrong (not always easy, but in this case it usually was) and how I’m going to fix the novel’s problems. I spent several weeks making page after page of notes, finally distilling them down into a single chapter-by-chapter list of everything I need to change. So far, so good, but at that point I hadn’t made a single change to the novel itself.

Which is where this third stage comes in. With all those notes in hand, it’s time to go through each chapter, dragging them into line with what is essentially a revised outline, whilst fiddling with all the nitty-gritty stylistic choices at the same time. Perhaps that explanation simplifies the process somewhat – I’ll often end up going through a chapter several times until each stage of the edits, from plot to grammar, is resolved – but I’m still hoping I won’t often have to return to edited chapters later. My earlier preparation, all those ideas and notes, should render that unnecessary.

There’s definitely something scarier about this part of editing, though. Whereas a first draft can be very rough and ready, I now feel that I’m making more concrete changes, producing what will essentially be the final draft (my intention all along was to do only a single editing pass, once my notes were complete). That is, of course, where the fear comes in: deciding something is finished has always been something I’ve struggled with, and this is no exception. Several times I’ve caught myself endlessly fiddling with a few sentences, when I really could call a chapter finished and move on.

Still, no matter how difficult editing might be, it’s also rewarding. I’m edging closer to something that I’m happy to let other people read, and will eventually be happy to submit to agents or publishers. That was always my intention for this novel, so taking steps, however tiny, towards my goal is definitely worthwhile.

  1. 31 January, 2013 1:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more – editing is a painful process and getting to the point where you’re happy to say “Right, that’s it – finished” can be never-ending. Once you claim it’s finished, you’re effectively saying it can’t get any better than this. And that takes a huge belief in your work. Good luck!

    • 6 February, 2013 2:32 pm

      Ah, that’s it exactly! That belief in your work, and in your own abilities, seems to be one of those things that even professional writers struggle with. It’s often the writers who are entirely self-assured who, conversely, need to improve their work the most!

  2. 9 February, 2013 10:09 am

    “This Writing Life: Diving Into Novel Edits (aka Getting to the Hard Part) Not All Those
    Who Wander” in fact got me addicted with ur website! Idefinitely will be back a whole lot more normally.
    Many thanks -Remona

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