In this latest post chronicling the writing of This Sacred Isle, I'll be looking at editing the first full draft of the novel.
I find editing fascinating and painful in equal measure!
Once I read back over my first draft of This Sacred Isle, any small sense of pride and accomplishment I felt on its completion withered away. One dimensional characters; choppy, incoherent plot; stilted dialogue. And it's at this point that an author needs to really go to work and start revising and moving onto the next draft, and then the next...
How many drafts? Frankly, I have lost count. Certainly more than fifteen, more than twenty very likely. Is this a lot of work? Yes, but I could never be comfortable with dashing off a draft, giving it a quick edit and then sending it out into the world. Some authors can do that and do it well – good luck to them, but I cannot work that way. For me, editing is writing, the shaping and moulding of a story, finding new narrative avenues to explore and developing characters. I need to reflect on a story over a reasonable period of time – and this reflection does seem to yield fresh insights.
Of course, there is a danger if this turns into a mission for perfection, and this is an ailment of which I suffer. I want the book to be the very best it can be and hate the idea of poorly written passages, underdeveloped characters and weak narrative. I think this is a healthy, professional approach to writing but it runs the risk of being forever absorbed in detail, of fearing to let the story be seen. It is easy to find reasons to keep tinkering, checking, but the true issue is one of fear – I am worried that people will tear apart my rudely stamped novel. There is no easy remedy to this, no magical formula, no moment when your book is ‘finished’, so don’t expect one. But at some point, you have to let go, you have cut the umbilical cord and let your imagination’s offspring thrive.
One key element of editing is that of collaboration - beyond a certain stage you cannot edit a book alone. You need fresh pairs of eyes. I am fortunate to have several people who have kindly read drafts of This Sacred Isle and their feedback has helped me to shape and improve the book (and pick out those pesky typos). As I approached what I felt to be a later draft, I sent the book to a professional editor. Clearly an editor's time is not free (though my editor's charges were very reasonable) but this is a necessary step and - if you are an independent author - one for which you should budget. A professional editor can pick out the grammatical errors you didn't even know were errors! Having a professional edit of This Sacred Isle gave me confidence that the final published book would be in the best possible shape for the reader.
Before I finish, I should mention a couple of apps I used for earlier drafts of the book. Both the Hemingway app and Pro Writing Aid app provided helpful analysis of my writing. The feedback provided should obviously be treated with a degree of caution and I would not advise anyone to rely on these apps exclusively, but it is worth giving them a try.
And if you'd like to pick up some more editing tips, check out my interview with editor Helen Baggott from an earlier blog post.
What are your tips for editing - what works for you?