Writing my First Novel: The Editing Process

While editing my first novel I realised that there were many tips I wish I’d known before I’d started writing in the first place. Hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes in my next first draft. And in case it would help anyone else I’m writing down some of these tips:

1) Think carefully every time you write ‘In fact’ , “Um” or ‘Suddenly’  and ask yourself do you really need to write them?

2) I noticed I was regularly switching from active writing to passive writing. Passive writing did not work for me. If I had noticed myself doing this in the first draft I would have saved myself a lot of work later. As it happens I wasn’t even aware of the difference between these before I started editing.

3) Editing and re-writing are dull and boring but also essential and liberating. Liberating because knowing I would edit at a later date meant I could allow myself write really badly just to keep the ball rolling and the words flowing. I chopped about 15% of my original novel on editing and rewrote whole scenes. I even chopped a whole character out of the book. Yes, grueling work, but worth it if it meant I never succumbed to writers block.

4) I fully believed I was going to hit the notorious 40,000 word block. And the minute I hit 40,000 words I decided, right so, now I must be at my block. Actually, I wasn’t. I gave myself a good talking to and just got on with it.

5) For awhile my story lagged as I tried to fill in the gaps of some uneventful weeks in the plot. On editing, I realised these gave nothing to the story and only served to bore the reader. Therefore I skipped ahead leaving some weeks unexplained because nothing was going to happen in them anyway. At the time I thought it would be detrimental to the story and I decided I would come back to them later. But when I revisited I saw that there was no harm done whatsoever.

6) It is not easy to chop characters you love, or delete concepts or scenes that you are proud of. There were some scenes that although they made me laugh out loud, I later saw that they played no part in the story as a whole. Therefore, they served only to take away from the flow of the story. Copy them and turn them into an idea for a short story at a later date if they are that good. But don’t keep them in the novel if they take away from it, or even if they just add nothing.

7) On editing I spotted things I had never considered in the first draft: Timeline errors, a lack of location references, concepts being introduced too late, characters with similar names that makes reading confusing….. Taking a note of when ideas are introduced, a list of any names used, when things happen etc. can help enormously. Unfortunately I didn’t realise this until my third draft when the discrepancies were blatant. The same goes for deleting: Make a note of anything that needs to be re-inserted elsewhere when you delete a scene. Otherwise you may have a memory of writing something that is needed for the story, but you may not remember deleting it.

8) Write and then wait. For 6 weeks I didn’t even look at my completed first draft. In those 6 weeks I wrote a second novel, a shorter 12,000 word children’s novel. So by the time I came back to edit the first novel it was out of my system (almost) and I could see all the mistakes and plot holes clearly.

9) After rewriting and then rewriting a few more times, I found the words blurred on the screen and I could no longer see the mistakes. I printed a paper copy and waited a week, giving myself a much needed break. Reading the paper version I noticed a lot more errors. I felt like I was back at the beginning of the editing process. Mind-numbing but worth it.

10) Just before you think you’re finished, read it out loud. Obvious, and commonly recommended, but what a difference that made. Not necessarily for plot, but for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, spotting repeated words, weak description and unrealistic dialogue.

The whole thing take ages so be patient. Luckily I write for pleasure and have no intention of giving up the day job so I took my time. Every now and then the editing process became overwhelming so I took a break from editing and wrote a short story for a day or two. Editing does not feel like creative work, so taking a small break to write something new helped my mind feel creative again. Writing the first draft took approx 3+1/2 months. Then a 6 week break. Then the editing process including at least 6 drafts took me a further 2+1/2 months. I was in shock to be honest. Now I know that writing the first draft is the easy part. The editing is the real challenge.

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