Thursday, 6 December 2012

Observations on editing

My novel is almost done, and once I have written the last sentence, thrown my hands up in relief/joy/pure exactly that the thing is FINALLY finished, it occurs to me that the job of the novelist is far from done.

Oh no! I hear you cry. How can this be? You have an idea, you put pen to paper, a few years down the line (or more than a few if you are me) you have a book. Happy days!

Not so, I'm afraid. The finished book is rarely the finished product, by a long stretch. There are many editing processes to get through first.

1) Go back to the start and read the book from cover to cover. I guarantee that you will be mortified by the early chapters, as you will have progressed as a writer as you go along.

2) Initial edit. This is the basic grammar and smelling mistakes that need correcting first and foremost.

3) Plot inconsistences. You may well be surprised that you have missed bits out, forgotten characters entirely and assumed that the reader had mind reading powers. Because obviously they know that Johnny is Trevor's father, without you having to tell them.

4) The reader's perspective. Surprisingly, I have found that I for one forget I am writing for an audience. And the phrases I use may not be proper grammar, like. Because everyone else wasn't brung up proper, obviously. That'll learn yer. The best way to tackle this is to either join a great little writer's group and get people to read you work and point out all your mistakes. If you can handle it.
Alternatively, you could go for the gentler option. Ask a pool of your friends, with an interest in your subject matter, to do a proof read for you. Give them hard copies and ask then to scribble all over them with things they like/dislike or notice about your work.

Now, and only now, are you ready for the real work. Because contrary to popular belief, the shadowy world of publishing does not take your magical amazing book and make it into a hardback best seller. They will hack and burn and edit their way through it until it isn't even really your book anymore.

Someone once told me that the best way to survive this process is to write that perfect, magical, amazing book. Hide it in a drawer. Yours, and only yours, forever. Then take a second copy, and send it to the publishers. Let them tear it apart, put it back together again, and if you’re lucky, publish it. Two books. Yours and theirs.

I always thought that was good advice.

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