And this is a bit how I feel after emerging from two months of heavy-duty editing/major surgery on novel #3, which I can now happily announce is to be called TARNISHED.
I’ve been working on Editor Leah’s brilliant and comprehensive notes on my first draft, as well as a bundle of rather more haphazard and gut-based queries of my own.
I had fully intended to post weekly with lessons learned while editing, but I found it quite difficult to lift my head from what I was doing. So here is a summary:
- Examine each scene and ask whether it earns its place.
If not, it has to go. Even if you love it. Even if it’s the best scene you’ve ever written. You can always turn it into a short story, or another novel – later on.
- Be scientific
My usual process is to write a quick and dirty draft zero (NaNoWriMo style) , then to do my own edit of that before calling it a first draft and showing to anyone else. But there does come a time when you have to engage the left brain and get really structural. For me, the second draft – when I am completely sure of what I’ve got – is that time.
Break the novel down into scenes, write a brief summary, note how it advances your story/theme/plot/what the reader knows/what the characters know. Use charts. Use timelines. Make databases if you like that sort of thing.
I found Emma Darwin’s post on the novel planning grid very useful for this, although, being a geek, I translated it into creative use of Scrivener’s Custom Meta Data – perhaps I’ll post on this.
- Carry a notebook at all times
So often, something that seems insoluble will surprise you by solving itself. This will invariably happen when you are least expecting it, for example, at the supermarket checkout, or while you’re waiting for your mini Jimmy Page to finish his guitar class.
YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN! If not, it will be gone forever.
I also keep a list of things to do in my Scrivener research folder, and I keep it updated with all the random notes from my notebook, voice memos from my iPhone and post-its that I stick around my monitor. This is a great way of Keeping a Handle, and it is very satisfying to cross off what you have dealt with.
- If something bothers you each time you read it, it is wrong
Seriously, trust your instincts on this one. Be a nit-picking perfectionist.
- You can weave stuff in
It’s never too late to add a storyline, motif or even character if it makes your story work better. I find it useful too see my novel as a tapestry, and I’m pulling threads out and adding others. But remember:
- Read the whole thing through at least once before sending it off
There will be ‘ghosts’ -remnants from earlier drafts – or as literary agent Julia Churchill called them, ‘hangovers’. You can use spell checks and word searches to a certain extent, but you need to check that everything new has bedded in correctly and that your excisions have been neatly stitched up.
- Be prepared to stop all other activities for a while
If you think this blog has been neglected, you should see my house. And my hair. And my kids.