Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Editing time

Last Autumn I wrote a post called 'Submitting time'.
Well, that's the one that probably should have been titled 'Editing time', but no, I was far too keen to send it off. So I said this - "As it turns out, I have no editing skills. I've read through my ms again and found a few typpos. I've shown it to a friend who said encouraging things. I think I'm just going to submit to a handful of agents and see if I get any feedback."
Which sounds both naively optimistic and shockingly lazy now. And of course the feedback for my unedited ms was largely 'No, thanks.'


But one of the agents I sent it to at the beginning of November has got back to me with a mass of editorial suggestions. Even on my first reading of her email, all her advice seemed so obviously right, it's hard to admit to myself that I would never have come up with any of it on my own. By the time I'd come to the end of her email, I was plain ashamed of myself.
And grateful.
And making notes.
And reading blog posts about editing on the internet - before making more notes.
So, that's what I've been up to this week - I've been learning to edit.

First, I've been cutting.
Agent-lady suggests losing 10 - 20,000 words. Ouch - that's hard! It took me a long time to think up all those sentences.
I tackled a middle chapter and cut 1,643 words. From the next, I cut 805 words. From the third, 472... So there is a definite pattern of reluctance here.
I suppose I'll have to cut what I can, then go back over the same chapters for another try.

On the third day, my will-power broke down and I began adding one or two new bits. Because that's what I like doing - making stuff up - it's writing!
So my strategy has now become one of cutting and adding at the same time. No, nothing can go wrong here...(What was that you said about my excessive wordcount? I can't hear you lalala!)

Trouble is, when I read each chapter, while asking myself whether all the words are strictly necessary - are they life-or-death vital? - then the answer is so often 'no' that I become hyper-critical. By the end of day two I thought chapter 11 was so bad, I couldn't believe an agent was actually trying to help me with it. In conclusion - cutting without adding can be a pretty demoralising business.

Although one thing I do like is the spring-cleaning feeling of having chucked out all the lines that weren't really pulling their weight. And I like the feeling of tightening - tightening - until the pace is flying along and polishing - polishing - until it reads like a proper writer might have written it.

Another steep learning curve I've been on is that provided by the art club. Although they've come up with some great 3D pictures, this was the week I learned never to try to teach water colour techniques to ten year old boys...

We all started off with this simple castle-and-houses-by-the-river-type sketch, and I explained about using the white of the paper instead of paint, keeping the brush moving - sideways and downwards - without going back, and building up layers of shading and so on.
Well, the girls all listened and painted their own delicate, watery castles-by-rivers.
Not so the boys...
Here's one that appears to be on fire...

And another which is made of cheese.
 (Ochre - I said. Not yellow - ochre!)
Oh, of course there ought to be aliens landing on the battlements. 
Just as there ought to be sharks lurking under the little rustic bridge.
But when it comes to the giant zombie who has taken over the bridge and is menacing the simple castle-folk - even I draw the line (groans and bangs head on desk!)

No, I really don't think my art club are taking me seriously anymore...


1 comment:

  1. Ah yes the editing cave! It definitely is just getting stuck in and being a bit ruthless with those words. I think it is fine to add bits too if it strengthens the story. When I read through an ms I haven't worked on for a while I am always amazed at the unnecessary words that have slipped through the first time. Good luck with it, Helen keep going I'm sure you'll get there. To get any personal feedback from an agent is fantastic so look at the positives.