DELETING IS THE HARDEST THING – part 3 of how to write a novel and get it published in 14 easy steps
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
This is a critique of a WikiHow article focussing on editing and preparing to publish my novel.
‘Step 6: Categorize your book.
'Once you finish your story, make sure it follows the submission guidelines which publishers Allen and Unwin follow...‘word length 40,000-100,000’
My ‘finished’ manuscript totalled 120,000 words and I believed every word was vital to the story! Heck!What was I going to do? You are ahead of me – aren’t you? Because you know that I didn’t need all the words. In fact, It turned out I didn’t need one in five of them! I started by deleting all the unnecessary adverbs like slightly etc because these superfluous words actually lost the impetus of what I was trying to say and they often highlighted a need to find better verb.
‘Just’ and ‘really’ were splattered everywhere and soon these words began to feel like graffiti tags that had to be scoured away.
‘He said/she said’ were often unnecessary when it was obvious where the dialogue originated and if it wasn’t obvious, then sometimes I rewrote the dialogue to make it so.
Repetition – this was my biggest crime because from page 1 to 450 – I said something and then I said it again in a slightly different way, trying to emphasise what I meant – but it didn’t emphasise, my repetition slowed down my narrative, diluting the story.
Then there was lots of thinking and wondering that I didn't need instead of I thought that he's lying – I could just say he is lying – so much easier.
It was a long haul. I started at the last page and worked backwards! This was another life saving suggestion from wonderful Beth Webb – it helped me see what I had written in a new perspective and allowed me to analyse my sentences rationally without getting caught up in the story. I woke backwards while moving forward – every deletion – every rewritten paragraph an improvement. Oh how sorry I felt for the poor people who had battled their way through my first draft – time and effort they could never get back!
‘Step 7: and re-edit your story’.
This is what the original article says, ‘Don’t feel like you have to stop looking at your story at a certain point. Edit as many times as you need to.
While you do need to edit and give the editing process as much attention as, if not more than the actual writing, you also need a break. You’ve been living inside this story you’ve created and now it’s time for a vacation. Giving yourself time will help you get into the editing mindset. Because, as the editor, you have to look at your work with a cold eye, ready to chop up it up and make changes.
When you do start editing, edit as much as you need to, but don’t keep editing if you don’t know what the problem is. If you don’t have a concrete solution, you’ll chop up your story and have no idea how to put it back together.
Over-editing is possible and dangerous, so get others to check your work. Another pair of eyes can spot gaps that you overlooked because you’re so close to your work.
Get someone you trust to give you notes and feedback. So far, you’ve been operating in a vacuum. There will be parts that need work that will be hard for you find on your own.
Read others’ notes, and then put the notes away. You probably won’t like what someone else’s notes are. So read the notes, decompress, and after some time go back and incorporate the ones which are helpful. Discard the ones which aren’t.’
I wish I had read this advice early on because it would have saved a lot of heartache and time. I did all this in the end but only through trial and error. Again, it was Beth who said to leave my story alone for a couple of weeks before I rechecked it. I needed fresh eyes to see it in a clearer perspective – I needed to appreciate my reader’s viewpoint and come at my story without all the background knowledge I had in my mind. It was sending my edited manuscript of to Melissa Eveleigh of the Honeycomb Literary Consultancy that changed everything for me, I think any new novelist would find this kind of feedback invaluable. Melissa gave me insightful and positive criticism which I was more inclined to listen to than the feedback I had received from the friends, who read my first draft. Melissa provided a list of things that needed expanding, cutting back, explaining, re-ordering and general comments about how to write bits better. Her advice and the feedback from my volunteer readers led to more hours of re-writing.
‘Step 8: an editor to look over your book.
After you’ve made a pass, or several at your book, it’s time to get a real editor to look at your work. Editing is not the same as writing. You will need someone who knows how to deconstruct a book, find the issues, and give you advice on how to put it back together… The right editor will be able to bring clarity and flow to your narrative without changing your voice… An editor will also, at the end of the day, make your book look professional.’
I was searching for someone to review what I thought was my final draft when I was given some gentle and vital advice from the fabulous blogger, Anne Williams, (it is no wonder this lady has won Best Pal Awards over and over again – she is so kind and thoughtful with all her encouragement and advice AND it was because of her comments after reading my first pages that made me see I needed to seek professional help. My editor, Amanda Horan answered all my editing prayers, switching on lights in my brain about my writing style and about the plot. Her amazing editing skills left me with a book I am so so proud of.
I'm indebted to so many people getting this far and my next step is publishing which I’ll talk about in my next post.