I have been powering ahead with the edit this week. On balance, this is probably a good thing – but it hasn’t always felt like it.
In reality I have spent my days either hanging my head in shame or getting downright angry with myself. And then pondering, in disbelief, how it has taken me until draft number four to notice these things…
I’m pretty sure that after the third draft I was feeling pretty confident: convinced I’d done all I could to polish my manuscript, ironed out all the niggles that had persisted up until then. And yet suddenly now so much of what I’ve written makes me cringe.
It’s the cheesiness, mostly. Even before I read my agent’s last set of notes I found myself cutting whole paragraphs I happened to cast my eye over, wondering how they could have lasted quite this long. And as I’ve worked through her (very kind) comments I have been both amused and embarrassed at the turns of phrase that at the time must have seemed appropriate.
There have been other painful moments of realisation too – things that, if nothing else, I need to remember in the hope that I might just avoid them next time round.
So, in no particular order, here are those lightbulb moments…
1) I get really lazy on my off days
There is a definite pattern to the notes I’ve received this time round, and there are certain chapters which have way more highlighted than others. In almost every case the problem is the same: instead of writing dialogue, I have described it, committing the cardinal writing sin of telling rather than showing. I think I thought I was doing this for a legitimate reason – that’s what I told myself anyway – but actually as I’ve tried to draw out the actual words from the description I’ve realised I hadn’t entirely thought through what it was that was being said. I suspect sleep deprivation had a lot to answer for – I was intent on keeping to word counts during the first draft, however depleted my brain cells were on any particular day. As a writing mum I’m not sure there’s any way I can entirely avoid that – but I’ll definitely be looking out for that off-day output next time I begin the editing process.
2) I’m a little bit too good at making excuses
The question remains, of course, why I failed to pick up all those lazy days in earlier redrafts. And I think it’s because I had done such a good job of convincing myself that everything I’d written was there for a reason. I can still hear those excuses in my head as I read the words now, but they don’t wash any more. This has to be progress, right?
3) I have a tendency to waffle…
I’ve always considered myself a fairly concise writer – not someone who’ll use ten words when one will do. But as I work through this edit there are paragraphs glaring out at me that have absolutely no business being in my manuscript at all – they’re not advancing the plot or telling the reader anything particularly interesting about characters or settings, and they’re not even especially well written. It is actually remarkably satisfying to be able to slash these sections right down and realise that I am entirely capable of expressing myself more frugally. It just might be good to lose the padding a little earlier in the process next time round…
4) I need to let my characters speak for themselves
This links in to all of the above, but I am discovering that the best way to get through tricky patches in my narrative is to stop trying to second guess what it is my characters want to say and instead just let them say it. Several scenes have evolved in (I think) way more interesting directions now that I’ve let my characters speak, and it turns out that what they actually wanted to say wasn’t quite what I thought it was after all.
5) I’m way better at writing the dark than the light
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to me given my usual choice of reading matter, but there is no doubt that the best sections of my writing are the ones which are also the most depressing. Or unsettling, or disturbing, or angst-ridden. Just not the bits where I’m trying to convey sweetness and light. That’s where the cheese comes in.
Now I realise reading this back that it might come across as a very negative post – and it’s not supposed to. I’m over the whole frustrated with myself thing, and actually am just so incredibly relieved that this manuscript had not made its way beyond my trusted circle of beta readers to the big wide world.
I am also realising once again how important the editing process is – not just for this particular novel that I’m working on, but for everything it’s teaching me about writing, and about myself.