This post is a change for me in that I haven’t posted anything much recently, I have been offline and out of the writing loop. Instead I have been in the deep end revising a story that I had ‘finished’ in my mind over a year ago. At the time I wanted to leave it a year, then come back to it with some objectivity.
I have to say, the year out has certainly helped. Although I am continually surprised by how much work needs to be done from grammar to generally improving the writing. I thought I had finished, but it turned out I had hardly started.
So, after realising how much work there was to do and being an impatient sort of fellow I decided to devise a plan that would move the work on and allow me to see an end date. At the end of the process I wanted a leaner, cleaner piece of writing and above all, a much, much shorter one. I wanted to cut roughly 25-30,000 words from a manuscript that was 116,000.
- I had to reacquaint myself with the book, its characters, story arc yada yada yada…
- When I ‘finished’ the book at Christmas 2013 I had already penciled in what scenes and characters I thought could be removed while still keeping the story intact and tight.
- I decided that for purely vain reasons I still wanted to polish the whole work, all 116,000 words of it. I like the story and the characters and before I put it to bed for good I wanted a good enough ‘director’s cut’ for myself. I figured that once I had the director’s cut I would then be able to cut the offending sections from the book, and like a surgeon simply knit the remaining improved text back together, resulting in an edited and much shorter piece.
As a result…
I kept the process simple; I am a simple person so it made sense.
- I print a chapter and revise for, grammar, structure, scene and character development. For each scene I ask myself, does this work? Does this advance the story? How can I make this scene better? You get the idea. The important part here is that I read the chapter aloud and mark the edits on a paper copy. Reading aloud is crucial for me, as is having some distance from the computer, generally we still read from paper not a screen. Personally I prefer paper anyway; I’m old fashioned like that.
- I type the edits up quickly, not worrying about anything else I may spot. Other things should be picked up on the next round.
- I then print this second draft off and repeat steps one and two twice more. So, in the end I have a chapter that has been rinsed through three times.
- I Print a final clean copy off and keep this, eventually building up an edited book which I will read in full when all my chapters have been rinsed through.
- I’ll cut my redundant sections out and knit the remainder back together. I suspect they’ll be more editing required at this point.
- Go and stick my head in an ice bucket and vow to find another pastime (optional).
So far I have reached chapter six and am pleased with the results, particularly with how much I have already cut. Although one trend I have noticed is that for much of what I cut, I write an equal amount to improve the story other places. But overall my book is now 106,000 words down from an initial 116,000 and that is without specifically cutting any scenes. That is just from a darn good edit.
So, what I have learnt?
Basically, a piece of art or writing is never finished, just abandoned. You need to stop somewhere, you really do…
What will I change in the future?
I will most likely make more use of technology to track what I am doing. I subscribe to tips and hint emails from the good people at Scrivener, the other week I decided to read the email instead of glancing over it, filing it and forgetting it. By a coincidence that week’s email dealt with revisions and illustrated how you can use Scrivener to make and track them.
OK, I hear you say, you can do that in Microsoft Word. But in Scrivener you can capture these revisions as a snapshot in your project. If you choose a different colour for each revision then you end up with a very pleasing catalogue of revisions/drafts. For someone like me this sounds like a jolly good idea, if only because it would allow me to see how much my work has changed over time. This has benefits over and above the obvious ones of seeing how you work and whether your new draft has improved your writing. If nothing else it will certainly make you feel confident when you can see how much hard work you have been doing.
And that is that.