Words, words everywhere and nary an editor in sight

Writing about the editing process, and pondering the ironic feedback loop of how much better this post would have been had I edited it….

The manuscript has sat, a paper hippo wallowing on my kitchen table, for the past six weeks. I have prodded it, wrapped it in rubber bands, poked it with a pencil. I have picked at it, shouted at it, threatened it, with no result. The title page sits, unflappable, calm, presumed dead.

Various friends and family have given feedback, and I have sought solace and inspiration in the words of others. I have tried, and failed, umpteen times, to describe what it is meant to be about – and been corrected at nearly every turn by my readers. Layers are all very well, but you have to make the initial wrapper attractive – and not in a Rowan Atkinson Love Actually way. So, I’ve gone back to first principles – the book that started it all (Don Quixote – a children’s version; and just last night I finished my skim re-read of Self-editing for fiction writers, which is still the best creative writing ‘how to’ book I’ve read. Once I finish this draft I will go back to Carole Blake’s From Pitch to Publication… just in case, you know…).

I’ve been stuck. A lot of the problems with writing long-form, I’ve found, are simply mechanical… procedural. How do I find the time? The will? What tools should I use? How do I work best? How much should I (attempt to) write each day? Revise as I go or at the end? Etc etc.

Well, the same problem has hit once I finished the first draft. How much effort in polishing now, before comments? Who to send it to for first impressions? How long to wait? What to do with what people say? Learning how to receive criticism from friends has been interesting – trying to distinguish between kindness and genuine praise, learning to weigh personal preferences against each other (even if it’s just for me to say ‘no, that character/word/plotline is fine as it is’).

And now, having run out of, well, desire rather than patience, for any more feedback, I’m stuck as to how to edit. I made one unwitting mistake in software choice. I use Scrivener for creating stories, which does exactly what I want it to do and no more. It helps me create and it helps me structure. It doesn’t do page numbering, or other formatting things, so I tinkered in Pages (I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about using Microsoft or Google tools). And, this is the bit I need to remember not to do again, I corrected typos in my Pages version.

Pages, however, won’t let me easily make the further formatting changes I need to make to ensure it’s in standard submission format –  it’s screwed up first-line indents, chapter heading spacings,  added hyphenation for some unfathomable reason etc. All of these a little harder than I could bear to correct one by one.- it’s the wrong tool for what I want to do (or my knowledge and the time I’m willing to invest is poor – either way, it doesn’t get the job done). So I tried editing on paper, but it just ‘feels’ wrong. I know – blasphemy – but I’ve only ever written or edited on screen before. Proofing works better on paper, but I can’t move things around – or write in that peculiar manner I have (I write like other people paint).

So I’ve ended up back in Word, which tastes a little like defeat, but at least it’s a pragmatic defeat. And being me, it’s given me ample time to faff, to huff, to puff and allow myself to be too easily discouraged.

And I have my list from the Self-Editing book:

1. How am I controlling time?

2. Resist the Urge to Explain

3. Don’t explain dialogue that doesn’t need it (dialogue qualifiers)

4. Check where and when speaker attribution is necessary (I’ve used it religiously, throughout)

5. Ellipsis for gaps – dashes for interruptions

6. Allow dialogue to stutter, stumble and flow with commas. (Remove some of my staccato full stops)

7. Check for repetition (of phrasing, plot, dialogue/narrative)

8. Are all my incidental characters really necessary?

But today I have run out of further excuses. Other than I’m tired. And Marek the carpenter is butchering the garden door as I speak. And I want to change the title of the novel. And I haven’t read enough of Riskglossary.com.



It’s a little scary, really, isn’t it? The longer you take to finish, the longer you can pretend it’s a good read, that people will like it, buy it, and that I will earn enough to live off my writing. That some mad fool might make it into a film. That I could direct. And write the music for. And win a simultaneous Bafta, Brit and Booker.

You know. Dreams. Dreams are only ever shattered by real things. If the real thing never exists, you can cling on to your dreams….

And so to bed. I mean, work. See you on the other side of the agents’ draft.

Feel free to chastise me or give me tips in the comments….

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