If there’s one thing I’ve become aware of as this second edit of my novel gets underway it’s that it really is more than a little inconsistent.
Overall I’d say my writing is pretty concise. I’m not very prone to waffle, and whilst I like to play with language to conjure up worlds and atmosphere I think I’m generally fairly skilled at selecting my words carefully so I don’t use one where ten will do.
But the more I re-examine my writing in this manuscript the more I realise that whilst it is on the whole pretty tight, there are still big swathes of text that really have no business being there at all. I thought they did, obviously, first time round – but looking at them now they add nothing, and if anything detract from the story I’m trying to tell.
On the flip-side of this there are other scenes that I’ve skipped over, related from a distance when really I needed to get stuck right in. Getting to those bits as I work my way through is actually the highlight of this whole process: realising that I can write more, can get lost inside my characters’ heads again even if only for a few minutes.
The cutting, though, is another matter altogether.
I almost entirely ignored it first time round. The process of editing my first draft was mainly one of tweaks and additions. I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of the dead wood – couldn’t even bring myself to notice it was there. But now, finally, I’m seeing things a bit more clearly.
It’s made me reflect a bit on my writing process actually. When I was creating that first draft I was working to a pretty detailed outline, one which I’d broken down into chapters, each with their own word-count target. I needed that structure at that stage – something that would make me get the words on the page, get the story out and give me something to work with. But of course the story itself didn’t fit those boxes I created quite as neatly – and it’s only through being more flexible that it’s beginning to fall into place.
I’m almost halfway through the edit now – well, halfway through the manuscript at least. I’ve cut and combined some chapters, and even with a few necessary additions the overall word count has dropped from 92,300 to 88,313. It pains me slightly to think of the (over) 4,000 words that I laboured over as I crafted the initial story, rejected and consigned to the scrapheap.
Even as I write that I realise I’m living one of the age-old cliches of editing a novel – it might be relatively easy to get the words on the page but cutting the ones it turns out you don’t need is a whole other matter.
Now that they’ve started to go, though, I can feel new life being breathed into the story. There is a stronger sense of urgency, and neither the narrative nor my characters can be accused of dragging their heels.
I’m curious to see where things go from here. There’s more dead wood to cut, I know that for sure. And as it falls I can see new shoots growing in its place, scenes that will draw the reader into the story rather than make them switch off. It’s those scenes that are keeping me going, but it turns out the cutting isn’t too bad. Strangely liberating, in fact. And most definitely necessary.