Kill your darlings
Author Stephen King probably best sums up the manuscript self-editing process: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
CK Webb is no less subtle with her comment: “Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity . . . edit one more time!”
While this may seem to be quite a harsh analysis of what happens during the process of getting your manuscript ready to send to your beta readers, it is probably more apt than one realises.
I made the fatal mistake during the early stages of the writing process of editing my work at the end of each writing session. This lasted for the first four days of NaNoWriMo, then fatigue and frustration quickly set in, and I made a promise to myself to leave the editing process until I had committed the last two words – THE END – to paper (or laptop in my case). Easier said than done. As an editor by trade, the writer in me fought a daily battle with the aforementioned. Most days the writer won, but some days the editor overpowered the writer with a red pen and rolled eyes.
At the end of the writing process, I ended up with a first draft that contained approximately 82 500 words. I entered the twilight world of self-editing armed with highlighter pens in an array of dayglo colours, a red pen, a green pen, a variety of Post-it-Notes in more subtle colours, several books and downloaded notes on self-editing manuscripts, and a truckload of energy. By the end of the process, some months later, all these resources were exhausted.
I had absolutely no idea until I ran my manuscript through tracking software, that I overuse certain words and phrases – like ‘like’ and ‘my own’. Once those and many others like them (see what I did there? 😉) were stripped from the draft, I tackled the many instances of passive voice, which helped me to follow the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. This was followed by swiftly kicking numerous unnecessary adverbs off the screen. By this stage, my family questioned whether I had a secret life going on in my office as I would slink off every evening to ‘do more editing’.
After printing out a rain forest-worth of hardcopy drafts, I did a final read-through to tighten up the content and make sure that the story was actually a story, rather than a randomly slapped-together series of chapters. My ‘book’ was now ready to go to my trusted beta readers to share their enthusiastic thoughts or subtly tell me to stick to my day job.
A nail-biting couple of months followed after I handed my cossetted ‘baby’ over to other people, who would no doubt criticise its upbringing and make suggestions on good parenting. The feedback was at times somewhat brutal, but for the most part was extremely helpful. The second round of tightening up content and changing some of the flow started. Most significantly, after much mental back and forth, the ending to the book was changed.
My slimmed-down draft was finally ready to go to my editor (yes, even editors need editors!).
I would like Mr King to have the final word: “Only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says, “Oh well, let it go, that’s what copyeditors are for.”
Post-script: This blog is substantially longer than my preceding blogs. Perhaps I should edit it down?
Watch this space for my next blog - an interview with Under Construction's book cover designer.