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Editing: How do you eat yours?


I’ve the guilts for letting my blog run a bit wild lately and here comes the but…but…I’ve been in the ‘editing cave’ so to speak and every free hour I had, needed to go into my novel, Too Close To Breathe.

Someone asked me recently, how I go about editing my manuscripts so I thought I’d give a taste here on how I tackle that particular brain freeze. Having only stepped, blinking, out of said cave yesterday, I think I can give a wee insight into how this works for me.

Firstly, I down a bottle of wine. Only kidding. A little.

Rightly or wrongly, I can’t work chapter by chapter or in episodes as some people do, my pea-brain can’t hold all those threads in a single space in the narrative. When I’m editing, I like to start from a printed manuscript. From here, I read through, marking out the sections that need work with coloured post-its. Each colour is assigned a particular task: setting, character, consistency, emotion, plot development, cut etc

Once this is done, I go back, choose a post-it colour to start with, open the manuscript on my computer, take a breath and work through the novel on that colour. Each time I’ve worked on a section, I remove the post-it. I keep doing this until every post-it is gone. I guess it’s like making a great big to-do list and ticking off points as I go (my obsession with making lists knows no bounds). All post-its removed, I read through the novel, usually making notes on changes in a notebook as I go. These changes are usually pretty minor. Then it’s another sweep through the manuscript until these are done.

Now, this makes it sound like it’s an easy and quick process. I enjoy it but it’s neither quick nor easy. When working on a post-it I use a notebook to flesh out the area I’m working on. I may handwrite, scribble, brain-storm the re-shaping of a paragraph or work on sentence structure getting the cadence right, the delivery of information and position of that information within the sentence or paragraph. I’ll use my notebook to write out pages of dialogue just so I can use one line of it in the novel. Frequently, I could be re-working the same couple of lines in this notebook for hours. As much as I love the rush of the first draft, there is something really satisfying, in a peaceful kind of way, about taking the time to craft at a micro level like this.

Editing can be a painful process sometimes, in that sometimes there are sections, sentences, words in your novel that you’ve sweated over or that you really like and sometimes these sections, great as they are don’t belong in your story. These are the choices only you can make. I try to see this part of editing as me doing my characters justice. I try not to let my ego or the fact that I’ve reworked that section to eternity, get in the way of what will ultimately give greater voice to my characters. Usually, I find once I’ve let go of those sections, no matter how loved they were, I feel lighter and of course the novel benefits.

Now pass me that wine…