Editing: hard work but someone’s got to do it

You may have noticed I keep banging on about the Debut Dagger and my possible entry to it. This is partly because talking (or writing) about doing it is much easier than the bit I should be doing: editing.

We all know editing’s a necessary part of writing, but it’s not always seen as the fun part, the rewarding part. So much more pleasant to rack up that wordcount (look at the popularity of NaNoWriMo) than make anything properly finished out of it. I was seduced by rising wordcount in 2011; in the second half of the year I wrote over 80,000 words of detective novel and believe me, it felt good. I can point to the wordcount graph (what do you expect from someone who used to read Physics World?) with its steep slopes or steady inclines, or I can point to the pile of first draft pages (or I could if I’d printed them all out) and anyone can see what it is I’ve been doing.

Not so in this phase. I spend hours working and either have the same number of words, or less than I started with. I write copious notes about scenes to be slotted in, conversations to be staged between characters, facts that have been lost. But I can’t point to any concrete achievement. The first chapter may be substantially better than when I sat down half an hour ago (such is the plan, anyway) but at a casual glance it looks no different. The synopsis (of which possibly more later) is growing but only agonisingly slowly, and anyway it’s a synopsis, it doesn’t count as writing.

It’s at this point that I need to remind myself (and may as well also remind any fellow writers reading this – think of it as a bargain from the January sales) that this is the crucial bit, the bit that makes the difference between tens of thousands of coherent words on a related subject, and a novel. As I proved last summer and autumn, it’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be, to sit down regularly and gradually amass enough words to fill a couple of hundred paperback pages. Unless you edit ruthlessly, however, it will never be a novel. There is nothing for it but to knuckle down, with only a cup of tea and the faint hope of future pride to keep you going.

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