What I usually say at workshops, on the rare occasions I teach, is ‘Editing is not spellcheck’. And I really really mean this. It is not spellcheck, it is not grammar-check, it is – all too often (and certainly in my office right now) pulling it all apart and putting it back together and trying to hold a dozen different things in my head at once and trusting Editor and trusting myself and then going for it.
I do like the initial part of writing, the make-it-up bit. Sometimes I have a great time sitting at my desk and making stuff up, sometimes it feels like pulling teeth. But where I feel the real work comes in is in the edit. Long before the honing and polishing it’s the tackling and attacking and brutally cutting and shifting. It’s big manual labour words not soft smoothing words.
I’ve spent the past three days going through Editor’s many pages of notes. Lots of them were minor things I could, and did, do almost immediately. This line isn’t necessary, you can cut it; this line is clunky, can you fix it; this is repetitive; this sounds wrong. I am not precious about this stuff at all. This is where another person’s view, a person I trust, is so useful. Every now and then she has a suggestion I don’t agree with, or that I think I can make better in a different manner, but usually I go with the suggestion. It’s not a fight, we both want this to be a good book.
That stuff’s done now though and I’m up to the really messy/dive in and cut/shift/re-make/re-work etc etc part.
And this is my third edit too – one for me, one for Agent, now this one for Editor. I don’t think I’d be at this stage if I hadn’t done the two earlier ones. And every time it’s like this. I don’t think there is a shortcut. Which is fine, because I like this. It feels like sculpture (which I don’t do!) or wood carving (which I also don’t do), but something very SOLID. The book is there, Editor likes it, Agent likes it, I like it. Now I’m working to make it more clean, more clear, more the story it needs to be.
As of lunchtime today I now have a load of pieces of paper attached to my white board, they are the 16 (out of 41) chapters where I have proper writing-editing to do (as opposed to spellcheck/easy cut editing). They are in chapter order, as I know only too well that one re-write early on will of course have a ripple effect further into the book. But, even so, I may not tackle them in chapter order. I’m making it easy on myself – I’m going to work on the bits I WANT to work on, that I’m drawn to work on, interested in working on. (This is the Open-Space-for-novel-writing part!) And I’m so happy about getting to work on what I want to work on, not least because I know that eventually I will do it all, because I do want to work on it all, just not necessarily in chapter order.
I have to go meet someone now about some theatre things. And while I could happily stay here at my desk all night (and believe me, that is NOT something I always say) I’m looking forward to coming back to the book tomorrow. There are many knots to be unravelled/threads to tie in (both metaphors relevant), things to do. And I only have a few weeks to do them. Yay.