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…

Red pen time

Actually using a red pen. On actual paper. It’s a thing.

Those of you who have been reading my weekly-ish posts (thank you), or those of you who are in the know, understand that this means one thing, and one thing only.

The Big Edit.

It’s always interesting (to me at any rate) how reading a book feels different when you are turning pages made from wood pulp rather than e-book pages. Don’t get me wrong, I have a Kindle and it has proved very useful, but my first love will always be a book in its physical form.

Editing a book when it’s in physical form also feels different. I’ve spotted typos or missing words that have passed me by countless times already. Ditto for sentences that have just been far too clunky or Frankensteined for my liking. Also, the flow is easier to pick up on (or the lack thereof). I initially started writing Anti-Virus on my commutes to and from work (remember when that was a thing?!), so it’s even more important to me that this stop-start rhythm is not embedded into my manuscript.

So far, so good. I’ve red-penned twenty something chapters so far (the content dictates the chapter length, so they’re short and snappy) and the flow feels good. My MC, Callie, feels like a real person who both delights and infuriates me, and the world in which she lives feels like now but heightened (and not for the better). It’s dystopia, what can I say? Her girlfriend, Jak, is shadowy, but there’s a reason for that. How can you know and love someone who’s never really there any more?

Have I used a lot of my pen’s red ink? Not so much. In addition to the tpyos etc described above, I’ve deleted a few paragraphs that were surplus to requirements, raised a few questions about consistency (is it traveller, or Traveller, is is Bio-Security or bio-security or even Bio Security, no hyphen, is it secret services or Secret Services, you know, that kind of thing). All fixable and none of it disastrous. To be fair, I’ve got forty or so chapters to go and it could all go Towering Inferno disaster movie wrong, but fingers crossed.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere. I’m not going to say anything like ‘2021 is my year’ because that’s tempting all the fates who have, quite frankly, been having a field day since 2020 and are showing limited signs of taking a well-earned rest so far.

But I am achieving. That’s all I need.

How about you?

Cloudy with a touch of dystopia

It’s a dull, cloudy, very chilly day here in Freya-land. I am somewhat envious of my friends and family who live further north than I (it wouldn’t be hard, I live on the south coast of the UK) and are currently experiencing snow. I can but hope that the clouds that I saw on my morning walk and the clouds that I still see from the window in front of me are full of snow, but I doubt it. They’re not the right kind of clouds, not pregnant enough with the possibility. Hey ho. I’d love to be proved wrong!

Over the past few days I’ve edited a short story that I wrote a few years ago, as part of my mission to submit shorter works to fiction magazines. It’s fascinating how, with some hindsight, you can so easily pinpoint the unnecessary parts, the odd repetition of words in neighbouring sentences, the turn of phrase that isn’t stylistically appropriate – the ‘mistakes’. I am going to pat myself on the back a little because this editing process hasn’t resulted in my inner critic telling me how rubbish I am, how I was an idiot to submit this story in the first place and so on, ad nauseam. What did happen was that I realised I had grown as a writer, that I am now able to cast an objective eye over past me’s work and be kind to myself. I’m not promising that I’ll always be able to respond in this adult manner, but I’ll take it for now. I’m currently in a good writing place.

And that takes me on to my next thought. Once I’ve re-read my novel Anti-Virus (which I have printed out on (recycled) paper) and once my beta reader has also followed up with her thoughts, I’m planning on sending it to a real, live editor. That will be… an experience. However, it is one that I am relishing. I don’t want my book baby to be unleashed without a professional eye cast over it. Of course, no book can be perfect and it will never be enjoyed by everyone that reads it, but I want to give it a decent chance, and an objective editor can go a long way to help with that.

2021 is going to be an interesting year, in many, many ways.

What do you have planned for the coming months? And what has your experience been of using professional editors? I’d love to know!