Blowing the dust off that old manuscript…

Blowing dust off a book…which is a bit of a pointless image, considering it’s on my laptop (although my laptop could do with a good dusting as well, I suppose). But anyway, it’s been a while since I wrote about my writing, and I finally have something worth updating.

As some of you know, I’ve now written four novels in their first draft form, thanks to NaNoWriMo, but in all four cases I’ve sort of let them lie there. Two of them are total rubbish and I’ll never look at them again (last year’s included, sadly), but the ones I wrote in 2010 and 2011 actually had some potential. The 2010 one needs a lot of research, astounding amounts of research actually, as it is historical fiction, so while I’m slowly gathering up more information for that I’ve begun to edit the psychological thriller I wrote in 2011.

I always liked that particular story. I didn’t plan it at all, and the idea of starting a story about amnesia simply came from reading a book about it. It only turned into something different altogether as I wrote it, and for much of the time I didn’t know where I was headed, though I remember feeling like this story was something special, something a lot better than anything I had written before. But once I finished it, I put it down and put it out of my mind for over a year.

Then recently my girlfriend asked to read it. I was worried, as one always is, that she’d think it was total rubbish. So I skimmed through it myself quickly, to decide what I thought of it after all this time, and I was pleasantly surprised that although it wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, for a novel written at such a fast pace (75000 words in 29 days), it wasn’t that awful either.

The thing is, I’ve never edited anything bigger than a short story before. So this whole process is new to me, and at first I wondered how to go about it. But what I am doing now is working my way through each chapter, writing down the main events or developments in dot points, then adding main ideas I think need revising for each chapter. With 40 chapters it’s going to take a while to do this, but then it’ll be easier to trace my story and go back and change things and map out the new outcomes of those changes. For example, I feel that the whole first half is fairly close to how I want it still, and the changes are very minor. But with the second half, while I liked the feel of it, it was too epic, blown out of proportion when it should have been restrained and kept to a lot less characters – a more personal story, in other words. So I’ll need to make some major changes, probably get rid of some characters and introduce new ones, with new motives, to make it all fit back together again.

And once I’ve done all of this, of course, I’ll write draft number two, which I already intend on being significantly longer than the first draft in order to build up the atmosphere better.

It’s quite exciting to be going through this process at long last, and to imagine the new version of the story in my head as I sit here tweaking bits and pieces. But deep down I feel like the first draft was my planning, and the second will be the real story, the one that I’ll then fine-tune over and over until it’s just how I want it to be. And at that point I’ll probably find out just how much I’m my own worst critic, but I’ll deal with that later.

So I guess a question I am asking of other writers is this: How do you edit? What processes do you go through to edit, and how big are the changes you let yourself make?

10 thoughts on “Blowing the dust off that old manuscript…

  1. I write my first draft all the way, then I go back and try to find the passages that don’t move the story forward and get rid of them. Then I look for adverbs and adjectives to see how I can fix the text to make it stronger without them. Then I look for depth, character, I tighten the text as much as I can and then it goes to trusted betas for honest hacking. Depending on their comments, depends on how much I start the process all over again. It’s crazy and intense, but well worth it.

    • That all sounds like a pretty good approach to me! Overall quite similar to how I want to edit mine too. It’s time consuming but as you say, well worth it. And I’m not going to even think of publishing anything until it’s better than I can currently make it, let alone as good as I can possibly make it 😛
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  2. Good luck with the editing. I try to go back even as I am still writing because I can’t face the thought of having it all to do once I’ve finished. I’ll be honest I don’t often make huge changes, I am a seat of the pants writer and once I try to alter it I lose something. Mind you my current WIP I did almost re-write the first chapter as it had started life as a stand alone short and no longer fit in the style of the rest of it. I edit chapters out of sequence because I find I’m less likely to scan that way. Again – good luck.

    • Ahhh interesting! I definitely think that style of editing works for a lot of people as well. I think NaNoWriMo has forced me to get the story down first without any editing whatsoever, which I think works well for me anyway, and luckily I’m quite happy to make massive changes to my stories – I’ve always liked the way Chekhov looked at stories, how he believed the first thing you should do when editing a first draft is rip out the first third of the story and make yourself write it again. I can see where he’s coming from, although I guess I extended it to the whole story 😛
      Thanks for your thoughts, it’s always good to hear from someone who writes and edits in an entirely different manner to myself! 🙂

  3. I am going to give writing on paper again and then typing it up, this will be a editing pass for me I think. Something that I recently started doing is reading my stuff out loud to myself. It’s time consuming but I found it picked out a lot of silly mistakes and made my dialogue better.

    • That’s a good idea, reading the stuff out aloud like that. I think especially for dialogue that would work wonders – I think dialogue is one of the easiest things to stuff up, so easy to make it clunky without even realising it.
      Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

  4. I took on editing my 2011 NaNo this year. I start at page one and first look for typos, grammos, punctos–a general cleaning up. I then look for continuity (plot details and such). The third time through is usually for style–diction, voice, tone. Having a critique group really helps. I’m not real keen on editing and revising so I try to get it down right as I first go along. NaNo really messes with that process so I doubt I’ll be participating much in the future.

    • Ahhh so that’s two of us editing our 2011 NaNos! It is true – if you like to get it written right the first time then NaNo isn’t the best way to do that. Interestingly, I would say I am going to edit my story in a slightly different order to you – plot details etc first, then style/voice/tone, then my typos etc I’ll fix up last. The critique group is definitely one I keep hearing people mention, so I think I will definitely use the help of my writer friends down the track. Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

  5. Since I’m a pantser, the first thing I do when I sit down to write the next part of whatever I’m working on, I will re-read the last chapter to get back into the flow, making minor changes, then keep going. Once the manuscript is complete, I do much like what you will be doing, going through each chapter, writing down a sentence or two about what’s in each chapter so I have a timeline. I then move things around as needed and reread, filling in the things necessary to help the story flow. I work on characters, looking for inconsistencies, bad dialogue, redundancies, etc. Finally, I start the nit-picking, reworking sentences so I don’t have all the same type, finding better words to fit the situations (adjectives/adverbs), and general grammar/structure. I spend a lot of time on the beginnings, making sure they are just right, trying not to put in too much back story so I can start right into the main action that rockets the reader into the story. Then, I cross my fingers and send it off to the writers group/beta readers.

    Hope you find the editing process that works best for you and if you ever need a beta reader, let me know! 🙂

    • Ahhh yes, I must confess I have done this with stories before, where I make minor edits while reading the last part I wrote to re-find my place when continuing on with the writing. But I try my hardest to avoid it during the first draft.
      Sounds like your editing process is pretty similar to what I strongly suspect mine is and will be! I can only assume this is a good thing! 🙂
      Thanks, and I will definitely let you know when the time comes for me to share my (much edited) story! 🙂

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