Ready, steady, (professional) edit!

It’s a late Saturday afternoon in winter, that sliding into dusk time when your body and your mind agree that really, you have no business being outside at this time of year, at this time of day. It’s time to hibernate until tomorrow.

I do feel that way, but this feeling is wrapped around a kernel of excitement. Why?


Writing a novel is a set of tiny steps – for me it’s been stop-start as my story has evolved over time, but essentially it went something like this:

  • Idea – scribble down random notes on old envelopes, the Notes app on your phone, paper taken from the printer and so on
  • Zero draft – the roughest of rough writing, it may not be chronological, there are huge plot holes and no structure whatsoever, but you’re getting it down – mostly on the commute to and from work
  • Run out of steam – you’re not a plotter, more of a pantser. Now you wish you were a plotter. Put it to one side for a l-o-n-g time
  • First draft – pick your writing back up and tear your hair out as you try to piece together the story from the chaos of the zero draft. Change the tense. Change the sex and the name of one of your main characters. Change the theme to more suit your state of mind. Change the world (not the actual world, the world of your story).
  • Second draft – finish it before the end of 2019. Come back to it after New Year and think – hell, what was I thinking? The ending is crap. Should this be the first of a two part novel? That’s too much pressure… WTAF?!
  • Third and fourth draft – bugger. Here comes the pandemic. A dystopian novel, with a pandemic in the background right now? Really? Time out.
  • Fifth draft – suck it 2020. This book is not going to disappear. And besides, you’ve brainstormed the issues, you’ve (wait for it!) drafted out a plot. You can do this. End of 2020 – you’ve done it. Happy New Year.
  • Print it all out. All 85,000 or so words of it. Read it, use your red pen. Wow – those typos are sneaky little sods aren’t they?
  • Source potential editors.

And here we are – editor found! I’m so excited! It’s another step in the process, but a vitally important one. Having survived the sample edits, I’m really looking forward to finishing my own line edit (if you can decipher terrible handwriting, please let me know!) and sending my book child away for scrutiny.

I want Anti-Virus to be the best that it can be.

It deserves it.

In which nothing much happens…

Over the holiday period, I watched a beautiful film, Brooklyn, based on the novel written by Colm Tóibín. It is about a small-town Irish girl who emigrates to Brooklyn in the early 1950s. In the grand scheme of things, nothing much happens. She lives in a boarding house, gets a job, falls in love, gets married. It is, however, achingly poignant because we can all see aspects of our own small lives in it, even if we’ve never emigrated, even if we haven’t experienced the 1950s.

I am currently reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. It is a beautiful plot, set in modern day Ireland, focusing on the misunderstandings and miscommunications of an on again, off again, on again, off again (and so on) ‘couple’, Marianne and Connell. It is, however, achingly poignant because we can all see aspects of our own small lives in it, even if we’ve never lived in Ireland, even if our teenage years and early twenties have long since passed.

Yes, I have repeated the beginning of the final sentence of the first paragraph intentionally. Novels don’t need to be about dramatic events. They don’t need to be packed full of action to satisfy us. The jeopardies, the successes, the failures, the near-misses can be tiny, but if they resonate with us, they are magnified a thousandfold.

I am currently working on a dystopian novel and yes, there is action, there is suspense, there is misdirection, there are matters at stake that are more than the average person will ever experience. However, there is also the personal, the small events that I hope we can all identify with. There is betrayal, there is misunderstanding, there is anger, there is pain – the stuff of life. The plot needs that in order to feel realistic, to resonate.

I have sent sample text of Anti-Virus to a few editors this weekend and hope (fingers crossed) that I will gel with one of them and the way they work so that when I have finished my line edits, I can submit the full manuscript and wait for their response (eek!). I hope I have managed to interweave the personal amongst the political to a decent enough degree to make these things resonate in a sufficiently good way.

In the grand scheme of things, nothing much has happened this week, but I do feel as if I have made a concrete step towards publishing Anti-Virus. Anyone who has tried something new can identify with that. It’s the small things that resonate.

Don’t need Elaine. Delete her.

This is the brutal part of writing. Or rather, editing.

You’ve bled words onto the page. You’ve made your story stronger, your characters are walking and talking like actual human beings, you’ve filled the pesky plot holes and unravelled those convoluted bits that just didn’t work. You’re inching closer and closer to THE END.

And then, out of nowhere, your brain tells you somebody is surplus to requirements. You send yourself an email simply titled DON’T NEED ELAINE. DELETE HER (yes, Caps Lock was fully engaged) because you can’t just drop everything and deal with pesky Elaine right at that minute. And then… you relax. Because it was the right thing to do.

Welcome to my week. Elaine has been deleted. Actually, she still plays a necessary part, but in conversation only (it was more of a row, an interrogation, a dissection). She no longer needs to make an appearance, she no longer has a speaking part. Put it this way, if she were an actor in a film, she wouldn’t be a high earner.

This writing, and now editing, experience has taught me a lot. As I wrote in Murder your darlings a few weeks ago, Anti-Virus has come a long way since its humble beginnings. So have I. I used to find it more challenging to change things, because I used to feel so protective of the words that I had written. These days, I’m clearly focused on the end goal – getting Anti-Virus in the best shape possible before I decide that it’s ready to unleash on the world.

I’m about 80% of the way there with my paper edit (and boy do you notice typos more easily when they’re printed out, compared to when they’re on screen!). I might even finish it by the end of the day. That would be a bonus. Then it’s back to my laptop to tidy up, to incorporate all of the red pen changes into my manuscript. Then it’s hunt the editor – an exciting and scary prospect.

Let’s hope she isn’t called Elaine…