Lifting the Lid #4 “Edit it. Scrap it.”

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19th May 2015

“I swear I’ve had the darkest feelings, I thought about swinging from the ceiling, don’t stop me now ‘cos I’m freewheeling. And I can’t steer.” The Wonder Stuff, 1989

The dreaded edit. When the world you have created begins to implode right in front of your eyes.

I am a perfectionist. I want everything just right. However, once you finish your novel, take a step back. Write something else. Leave it for a while.

You may have guessed from this series that of course, I didn’t. My historic catalogue of mistakes once again lengthens.

I raced through the first edit. Change after change after change. I read somewhere that I needed more than one edit. So, as soon as I finished, I started edit two. Here we go again, sentences were changed (in all likelihood) back to what they had been before the first edit. I was desperate to finish it. I spent night after night editing from eleven pm to five am. At five am I would head off to bed only to be woken by my alarm an hour later and leaving for work at six am.

I had come so far, the edit needed to be out of the way. I treated the edit as the polish a car gets before it’s displayed on a forecourt. I couldn’t be more wrong. The edit is as integral as the story as itself. It’s the electrics, the engine and the fuel that makes the car go.

Expect to spend at least the same amount of time editing that you spent writing the story in the first place. After my peers had read a few chapters and without exception concluded the manuscript was good but needed an edit, I began.

Wrongly though, as I’ve explained, I treated it as an exercise to skip through to get to the end. Once I believed it was “finished” (which we’ve established it never will be) I researched and found an editor I could work with. Be careful here, you need to find someone with your style, someone who understands the novel.

Guess what? I didn’t.

I did little (read: no) research and hired somebody who will remain nameless. After the first chapter I could see they didn’t understand my humour. Because they erased all of it. My novel was being destroyed. I had no idea what to do. I pleaded with the editor, who assured me my manuscript would read better and be more polished. I was nervous. I had no experience, surely the editor was right?

I dreaded opening my inbox as another chapter would appear and my hard work would again be ripped to shreds. Humour gone. Sentences changed that took the rhythm from my work. I didn’t know what to do.

Then a few weeks passed. I heard nothing. I had received the edits of chapters one, two and three quite quickly. These files had already burst all enthusiasm I had for The Radio, I felt physically sick at the thought of receiving the other thirty-odd chapters back. I emailed the editor. No response. Again, a week later. Nothing. Another two weeks passed. Nothing. I sent an email stating that I wouldn’t pay any fees raised to date due to the fact that it was obvious the agreed timescales were not being adhered to. Nothing. I gave it up as a bad job.

It was about two months later I received an email from my editor’s widower, to apologise for the lack of response…

In the meantime, I properly researched editors and gave my first three chapters to a handful who from what I read were highly recommended. Each was given the remit of editing a chapter and returning it to me. I paid each of them for their time. This was the best thing I’d done to date. One editor clearly understood from her edit what I was trying to achieve and understood how the book should ‘sound’ to the reader. Charlie was appointed immediately and she has edited both my novels. She is pencilled in for my next novel out later this year.

A good editor is vital. Having lived in my own fantasy world for so long whilst writing The Radio, it soon became clear that I took some things for granted that I just assumed the reader would understand. The editor clears this assumption away and assists the reader. She also makes recommendations about plot, continuity, structure and grammar.

Worse still, I didn’t learn from this mistake. I did exactly the same with The Page. Perhaps worse. This was the lowest I have ever felt about writing. The Page, my second novel, is the follow up to The Radio. I was desperate to get it out, because I felt that I had become forgotten. There was a real buzz surrounding The Radio – it was so exciting – when that attention drifted off, I needed to let everyone know that I was serious about writing. I wasn’t a ‘one-hit wonder’. The Page flowed right from the beginning, but as I came toward the end I forgot all the lessons I’d learned about the edit. I set myself unrealistic targets, editing for around 15 hours a day, every day. I got it finished in three weeks. And off it went to Charlie, my editor.

Three days later it arrived back. It was slayed. And I mean slayed. Usually the returned files are broken up into bite-size pieces. In the case of The Page it was split into eight files. There is a certain trepidation when the document arrives. I quickly scroll through to see how many amendments are in the right hand column. The first chapter, there was one amendment. Near perfection. And then it simply dissipated in front of my eyes. Page after page after page of suggested changes. Another file dropped in my inbox. Hundreds of amendments. This is no exaggeration. The comments weren’t good either. There were chunks of text that she simply hated. Chunks of text that she suggested should be deleted. Text to be moved. Narrative to change. As I scrolled through, there were just too many.

I gave in.

All my work over the last year had been reduced to this. I really sunk. It enveloped the rest of my life. I became despondent. Permanently tired. I couldn’t bear to even switch on the laptop. The Radio was a lucky break. The Page showed my true worth. I couldn’t write at all. I’d been kidding myself. I was useless. Home life suffered. I stopped communicating with friends. A month or so later, I had a revelation. I’d scrap it. Delete all the files. Destroy it. I didn’t sleep for a few days. I remember sobbing quite regularly. I did turn to a couple of author friends who I knew would understand. They warned against scrapping it. Leave it a few weeks, they said. My girlfriend, perhaps the most tolerant person on the planet at that time, was losing patience. She talked me ‘round. She reminded me how proud of it I was when before it went to the editor. It was time to finish it.

I’ve digressed from the journey to becoming published here, and jumped forward a book. I’ll rectify that next time. I just needed to stress the importance of the edit.

Next time, we’ll look at something no human likes. Rejection. It was time to submit my final manuscript of The Radio to the agents out there. I had no doubt it’d be snapped up in a heartbeat…

Take care