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The cycle of torment that is editing your manuscript

When I’m not editing, I’m very in favour of it.

Anyone can write a first draft. I mean, a lot of people won’t, and even writing a first draft is an incredible achievement, but that doesn’t make it a workable book.

Editing is where the magic happens, where a lump of clay that sort of looks like a person is given expressions, strength and detail. It’s what makes an idea into a story, a concept into a novel. A draft into something finished.

I say this all the time. Until I have to edit.

If you are an author, or you follow a lot of them on social media, you’ll know the un-ending pain of the editing process. We love to complain about them. They’re painful, difficult and often akin to undoing one knot in a huge tangled ball of yarn.

Until now, I’ve been rather lucky with my edits. I tend to rush through a first draft, knowing I’ll finish it later, but having always written quite short books, my edits have mainly involved rearranging a few things and adding stuff in. Yay, more writing! I love writing, how great is that, to add things?

This current project, however, is a little different. My first draft was longer than anything else I’ve written, and whilst I knew it was rough, it had a voice and a tone I was proud of.

At the moment I’m halfway through my first round of edits after receiving comments from my agent. This round is all about taking stuff out (flashbacks, unnecessary extra characters and conversations that slow down the pacing) and the next round will be about putting things back in (the feeling and elements of the flashbacks, any details and practicalities that have been left unexplained because of stuff I’ve removed).

Then finally there’ll be another round to polish and perfect it.

That\s the plan. Except I am halfway through round one and I’m finding that I suddenly hate my manuscript. It’s not as good as I thought it was. I’m stripping away all the voice and specialness from it. It’s just like every other book. There’s nothing wonderful about it. I’m a hack, I’m unoriginal, this story isn’t all that. The characters are blunt, the dialogue’s pretentious. Everything, quite frankly, is crap.

Now, I know this game. I haven’t felt it quite as ephemerally as this before, but I know how it works. I know I just need to forge ahead and get it done, the same way I do with a first draft even when I’m not particularly enamoured.

But it made me think about how editing symbolic of life – we are faced with our own messes, mistakes and things we thought we did pretty well, but in comparison with others, are probably pretty crap. Having to look and assess the things you’ve done, why you’ve made those choices and what you could have done otherwise is pretty painful sometimes.

However! In writing, just like life, editing gives us the options to learn from those moments, to forge through, improve and create something we’re truly proud of. Even if it seems absolutely impossible at the moment. Sometimes it’s tempting to burn it all down just to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, but usually, in slightly less dramatic fashion, it’s about making small, irritating changes until eventually the thing you’re left with is much better than you had before.

You just have to keep going, and ignore the outside noise, the dreams that rest upon this thing you’re making, and what everyone else is doing.

So, now that I’ve suitably procrastinated by writing this post, I guess I better get back to it.

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