Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Pesky Edits of Doooooom...


Happy Thursday authonomists...to celebrate, another guest blog from authonomy and Times bestselling author Miranda Dickinson.


Let’s face it, nobody likes editing. I’ve yet to meet a writer (published or waiting-to-be-published) who jumps up and down with glee at the prospect of whipping their beloved manuscript into shape. I am no exception to this – and second time around, I am even less enamored with the process than I was with Fairytale

As I mentioned last time, I’ve just completed the final round of edits for Welcome to My World – but, far from being a breeze after last year, I actually found them some of the hardest I’ve had to do yet.

I think the problem with editing is that, in your heart of hearts, you know it’s a necessary process to go through in order to make your novel as good as it can be. On paper (pardon the pun) it all makes sense: tightening the pace, sharpening the plot and polishing characters will only make your book more irresistible to readers (and, therefore, publishers). But that doesn’t mean that you have to like it…

One of my writerly friends describes editing as being like a root canal operation- painful, but necessary to stop further pain in the future. It’s a bit of a gruesome analogy, I know, but it works for me! Because the truth is that it can hurt incredibly – after all, your novel is your baby – your precious creation that you have nurtured, cared for and dreamed about, sometimes for many years. Being ruthless with it seems like a betrayal after so much love has been poured into it. And the process is even harder when the changes you’re inflicting on it are suggested by somebody else.

It’s one of the things about being a published author that, if I’m really honest, I never considered when I was dreaming of the ‘Big Sparkly Publishing Deal’ for all those years. I’m not quite sure what I expected, but being told that characters I loved weren’t coming across on the page in the way they did in my head, or that my pet plot points didn’t work, was a mighty shock to the system. Every writer I’ve met says the same thing, so it’s good to know I’m not overreacting!

The thing is, when I step back from the situation, I can completely see the need for the edits. In my day job as a copywriter, I work with other people’s words a lot and it’s always easier to be objective about how well a sentence or paragraph works when you haven’t written it. So I understand what my editor and the editorial team at Avon are doing when they send through suggestions to tighten up my work. But it’s still difficult at times to switch off the ‘proud parent’ inside my head and approach it as a teacher who wants to bring out the best in her pupil.

Of course, I stand my ground on some things – but I also make sure that the points that have been raised are really clarified in the text. When you live with your characters and story as much as we writers do, it’s amazing how much you can assume you’ve explained in the novel that actually didn’t make it to the page. But other things you just have to let go – like when the title of my first novel was changed from Coffee At Kowalski’s to Fairytale of New York, or this time when the name of the village where Harri lives was changed to Stone Yardley (this one was my solution to their suggestion, but it’s still taken some getting used to). There are some things that simply work better as something different – for a whole host of reasons – and at the end of the day I know they will help to make my novel something that people will want to read.

I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to love the Pesky Edits of Doooooom, but I think I’m gradually beginning to understand why they are a necessary part of the process. Thankfully, for this year at least, they are well and truly over and now I can look forward to the exciting bit of seeing the proof of Welcome to My World next week. It’s when I get to see what the printed pages will look like – and I’ll tell you all about it next time…

Thanks for your brilliant comments and lovely words of support – they mean a lot to me!

Till next time,

M xx
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5 comments:

freddie omm said...

editing is hell as indeed is changing copy - although requests to change copy are often more easily graspable and easily actionable than trying to fix something in a manuscript.. do you ever really think a draft is the final draft??

Dan Holloway said...

Freddie, of course there is no final draft. If one believes there is then one will keep on and on forever. The key is realising when to say OK, good enough. That is one of the hardest things for perfectionists like writers to grasp. It's also one I'm sure as a copywriter working to deadlines Miranda absolutely grasps. Another great insight :)

Miranda Dickinson said...

Thanks for your comments Freddie and Dan!

I think Dan's absolutely right, Freddie - at some point you have to turn off the internal editor in your head and just accept what you've written. Working as a copywriter I've learned that you don't have the time to work forever on getting something perfect. The temptation to tinker with it is immense, of course, but I think you have to go for being 90% happy with it and ignore the niggles.

There are parts of Fairytale of New York that, given the chance, I'd write differently, and this will no doubt be the case with Welcome to My World, but the way I'm going to use that is to try to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. Even if that's with the novels I'm writing that will never make it to bookshelves (like the Wombat and the Tea Ladies here on Authonomy!) I'll still strive to better my craft as I learn more about what works and what doesn't.

It's just about getting something that works on most counts - and trying to send the perfectionist inside packing!

Wong yuk wai Eva said...

I bought milk at the store. I noticed we were running out of it, I'm glad you are doing so well in school, by the way, your studying advice helped. How long have we been at the office? Well, everyone left at five this evening and it is nine o'clock now, we have spent four hours right here at this one desk, maybe I should call it a day. Yes, I am preey tired myself, after my computer crashed, I decided to call it a day, everyone, clean up, time to call it a day. Can't you do this simple thing, you stupid jerk? Don't call me names, I'm doing my best, I'm sorry, I swear I'll never do that again, now, you boys! Stop calling each other names, talk to each other and try to settle the dispute. What's up? No one is here except me, the visiting professor was ill today, so our greeting banquet is not call off, what a pity! Well, let's go back home, if it rains, we shall not call off the picnic, the bride did show up, the wedding ceremony is not call off. Hi Jack, let's dine out after work, good idea, Chinese food or Ltalian food? You call the shots, you're familiar with this place, so you call the shots. The film is so wonderful that I am completely carry away, take your time and think carefully---don't get carry away, he is carry away by his feeling. Tomorrow I shall ask Jack to marry me, don't get carry away, you've only known her for two moths, that's long enough, I'm quite carry away with her. Give me 2 fried eggs and a cup of milk, how would you like the fried eggs, I like them a little bit soft, I catch your drift, I'm sorry, I can't quite catch the drift of what you're saying, did you catch the drift of what you're saying, did you catch the drift of the argument? I'll be here on time. I'll go to school instead of work during the next half year. I'd like to buy the latest Reader's Digest. Hi, I'm here to check in, the ticket agent cheaked in the passengers one buy one, pronouncing the name of each with great care.

Tom Hoefner said...

I love editing. I absolutely love it. It gives you a chance to get your hands dirty as a writer and fix what's wrong with your work.