Back in May, I mentioned that I was diving into revisions on a new book. Back then, my working title was “Set In Stone”, but that has since been set aside in favour of something more fabulous, about which more later. I probably should have known better than to tempt fate with such a dogmatic title in the first place. My next WIP is going to be entitled, “Don’t Change a Word”.
The last few months have seen me dipping in and out of that manuscript as needed, in the midst of various other bits and pieces including Book Week and its many joys.
Just yesterday, I moved the latest draft off my desk and back onto my editor’s. There is more work to be done, but with each round, the scale diminishes. Eventually the spiral of revisions will narrow to the finest of points before finally disappearing, and the book will move into the hands of others.
So this is the second post in the three-way blogapalooza I’m sharing with Anna Branford and Sally Murphy. Because it’s part of a series, I’ve followed the same format for the title, but the first thing I should say is that I think it’s misleading.
You don’t ‘get edited’. I’ve never ‘been edited’. It’s not a passive process in which the writer sits back and waits for the editor to tell them what needs to be done. It’s a dialogue – a back-and-forth that begins with the text, moves to the editor, bounces back to the author, who returns to the text, then bounces it back to the editor, and so on thusly for the term of your natural life (or so it can seem).
When I show people the six-page editorial letter for Annabel, Again, or a marked up draft of Surface Tension, I get some interesting reactions. Some people actually draw back in horror. But isn’t it your story? How can you let them? From time to time I hear people – often aspiring writers – talking about the way publishers insist on ‘changing’ people’s work, to shape it to fit their own set of parameters.
But really, that’s not how it works. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. If a publisher were to take this approach, I too would walk very quickly in the opposite direction.
Although I haven’t had much writing time of late, I’m always thinking about it – about stories and writing and the way words hang together. And in the midst of all the things that have been keeping me from writing – among them copyediting and proofing a forthcoming novel and continuing the grind of renovations we’ve been doing on the house – something occurred to me.
You see, I like these pavers.
I’m not housey. I’m not decoratey. I’ve been driven to the depths of frustration over having to make so many banal choices during the renovating process. I don’t care about tiles or paint or – god help us all – grout colour. But at the same time, you have to choose something. There’s a process you have to move through and perhaps not caring should make it easier, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that way for me.
A book has gone to bed.
It’s been a crazy season – of eleventh-hour renovations and far-flung family and 18 people and three dogs under one sweltering roof for the craziest Christmas ever … and in the midst of it all, copyediting and layout and proofreading and all the associated insanity that goes with sending a book (or two) to press. The endless quest for less looking and staring and gazing and all of that. The growing realisation that a proofread completed in the midst of all of the above is not the thorough proofread a book needs. The last-minute panic of trying to change things I should have changed earlier – much earlier – approximately 5 minutes before (after?) we should have gone to press.
I may have broken my editor.
No, this post has nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland. It has to do with editing, and my exasperation with my own verbal (textual?) tics. I know we all have them – those words and phrases we use over and over, that we rely on lazily as filler or meaningless ‘beats’ to break up dialogue. But having done a fairly quick couple of rounds of revision on my 2011 title Surface Tension, I’ve realised how pervasive some of mine are, to the extent of feeling embarrassed at what I put my poor editor through.
On the weekend, I went down to Kakamigahara, in Gifu Prefecture. I was doing research for my novel, The Last Wild Thing, but while I was there, I was able to catch up with one of my host families, from my time as a high-school exchange student. In the usual spirit of Japanese hospitality, they treated me to many things, among them participation in a pottery class, a hobby my host father has recently taken an interest in.
When the class began, I was asked what I wanted to make. During the class, it was suggested that I begin working the clay only once I had a clear idea of what I was aiming for. After the class, I was asked what I had made.
Thinking about all of this later, I realised something interesting – that without thinking about it, I had approached the clay exactly as I approach the writing of a novel. That I had set out without any idea of where it was I was heading. That when I had stopped and tried to be ‘sensible’ and do some advance planning I had been completely at a loss. That there was no way I could make a plan without actually beginning the process. That what I needed to do was begin, to get my hands moving and the wheel turning and see what happened.
No, I didn’t forget to finish that sentence. Because it’s not a sentence. It’s a collection of words with which I am currently engaged in mortal combat.
Every writer has words like these, words they throw in all over the place which serve little purpose, words which can usually be cut to make the writing tighter. These are some of mine, and now that I’m in the final stages of my novel and I’ve done all the major cutting and rearranging and wailing and gnashing of teeth, it’s time for the small stuff. It’s time for these words to be hunted down and destroyed.