The Editing Process

Everyone who writes has their favourite and least favourite part of writing a novel. Things that writers often pick out are writing the dialogue and doing the action scenes. My least favourite part of writing a novel is the editing process.

The first draft always has a certain excitement for me. I do a basic bullet-point outline, so although I know what’s going to happen I don’t necessarily know how it’s going to happen. That keeps it interesting.

Because I know what’s happened and how it’s happened, the editing stage never feels as exciting as the first draft. It’s less intuitive and it requires more concentration.

When Lee Child was writing the Jack Reacher novels, he wrote one draft and that was it. He did go back to review what he’d written during the day, but he didn’t go back later on for a separate editing process.

I tried the Lee Child approach when I wrote the manuscript last year, but failed. While it’s the least edited manuscript I’ve written, I have worked on it extensively. A significant chunk of my attention went into the first three chapters. That was where I honed the tone and voice of the novel. I gave those three chapters the level of attention that I gave my short stories for my MA in Creative Writing.

The first draft is more like a stream of consciousness process. The editing process is self-conscious and logical, self-knowing and self-aware. It’s a rationalisation process.

The first draft comes out like a mental sneeze. The editing process, on the other hand, seems to have so many conscious choices and decisions. Every sentence is an aesthetic conundrum. In the end it’s all about achieving a viable balance.

I think I’m getting better at the editing phase, but it’s a gradual improvement.

What am I doing in the editing phase? I’m giving the images in my head a more logical description as I tweak the words. I’m explaining things with greater clarity. I’m turning it into a smoother reading experience. I’m simplifying it but, at the same time, I’m making it richer, and more insightful.

The editing process is like turning a lump of rock into a diamond. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway. I’m writing genre fiction so it’s more about refining the reading experience and making the story as addictive and immersive as possible rather than elevating the language.

Either way, editing is a slow and painful process. Its slowness, for me at least, can obscure the satisfaction of seeing immediate results. You just have to keep plugging away.

Yes, it’s rewarding. It feels good improving your prose and rectifying mistakes, but it’s like work. Hard work. It feels like work, because it is work.