Sunday, 13 December 2015

Editing Your Novel Doesn't Have to Be a Nightmare Anymore

Revising a novel has always been my bete noire. The line-editing (ie, the thing everybody thinks of when they hear "revising") comes naturally to me, but actually turning a long story into something publishable has escaped me somehow.

I even joined an online writers' workshop to try and get beta-readers, but all it ended up doing was getting me a bunch of critiques that, while probably not inaccurate, still sent me dangerously close to giving up on writing altogether. And the novels I submitted there are still unpublishable.

The situation wasn't helped last year, either, when I wrote a large chunk of a second draft of something, only to hit a complete block in where to take the story next. I never recovered from that, and the story remains "on vacation", as I like to call my trunk novels (I think that's one of the tips I picked up from the writer's workshop).

So when I set the goal at the beginning of the year to write and revise a new 90,000-word novel, I found myself with a novel that I was actually dreading tackling once I'd finished the first draft (also, I'm nowhere near 90,000 words). The idea, following on from Stephen King's On Writing, was to toss the novel aside for six weeks and then start on it again.

In the event, I left it for five months instead - I justified it because I was actually thinking of all the changes I'd have to make during that initial six-week rest period, which essentially meant I hadn't given myself a break from it after all.

Between the end of July and the beginning of November I ended up having enough other projects that I eventually did put it out of my mind more or less completely. So about November, when I was looking at my list of goals and the rapidly approaching end of the year, I found a couple of resources that have turned out to be quite helpful in attacking the revision process:

The first was this post from Holly Lisle, which persuaded me that the process could be made easier. From the same Google search, I also found a post from Ann Lyle, which boils it down to a 10-step process. This is the one I've been following rather closely, because I'm a sucker for breaking goals down into discrete tasks.

What their advice boils down to is, give it a read-through to catch anything that pulls you out of the story, get a handle on all the characters and concepts and place names you introduce, and fix all of that stuff before tackling the line edits. It's too easy, I've found, to get started on line edits and then either realize that something seriously doesn't make sense, or (the worse option) you make a change that actually screws up the entire story.

So far the process has gone pretty well, and pretty quickly. I can clear five or ten pages a night (I could do more if I weren't also working on a script and a movie treatment), and the process is actually quite painless - if I see something that doesn't make sense or that I feel doesn't pay off, I make a note of it on the manuscript and in a special notebook, and then move on. The feeling of not needing to solve everything at once is pretty liberating.

Now, I'm still at Anne Lyle's Step 3, so there's the possibility that this whole process could still crash and burn. But at least for now, I feel like I'm back on track, and so I'm even starting to think about submitting the novel at some point next year. Probably in novella form, because it's still quite short (DAW and Angry Robot, I've found, require lengths of at least 80,000 or 90,000, respectively).

The upshot of this post, then, is this: if you're like me, and you hate revising, check out those two resources I've linked to above. If nothing else, they should give you a framework in which to attack the process.