How do you edit a novel?

Snakeandpig01WAnd how do you motivate yourself to get started?

A few weeks ago, I completed the first draft of my second novel. It’s an exiting stage, but also a frustrating one – a bit like getting a new toy and discovering it needs batteries and you don’t have any. Or like crossing a finishing line, but knowing there’s a second lap to be done. Or a third. Or even a fourth. There’s a lot of work to be done yet, in the editing stage –  re-organising, reducing, clarifying, re-working. At least, that’s what most commentators tell us. It’s a bit disconcerting though. When you’re writing your book, you’re striving towards creating a complete piece – a work of literary art. I’ve not so far had much difficulty concentrating on this process, or  experienced any lack of motivation. But when you write the final sentence, it feels like making the final brush stroke on a painting. The thought of re-working a painting evokes a fear – what if, rather than improving what you’ve created, you end up spoiling it? Slightly different for a novel I suppose, in that you can always go back to a previous version. But if you’re happy with what you’ve written, and satisfied that you’ve done your best, it’s easy to wonder how much room there might be to improve on it. Time is a critical factor too. You can keep as many notes as you like, but to be sure of really making it work, you need to have the whole thing – plot, characters, places, events, chronology – all together and under control in your head at the same time. I feel like a snake eating a pig – it’s difficult to get my head around it. I’d dearly love to have a whole week or more to devote to it, but sadly; I haven’t. So, as usual (and in common with most  writers) I’ll just have to do the best I can with the time available. I’m inclined to think that what editing needs, above all else, is discipline. Discipline to get started. Discipline to be ruthless, where necessary. And perhaps, just as importantly, discipline to know where to stop. Stop when you’ve achieved perfection, of course. Or, alternatively, when you finally realise you’re never going to make a silk purse out of that sow’s ear. Or, more probably, somewhere in between the two.

So, what about those of you out there who are also writers – how much editing do you do? And do you find it difficult to get started?


About literarylad

Graham Wright is a freelance writer and author. His first novel, Single Point Perspective, is set in and around the city of Manchester, where he lived and worked for more than fifteen years. His second, Moojara, is set in and around the world, but mostly centres on Perth, Western Australia. Both are works of dramatic literary fiction - imaginative, serious and thoughtful, but with a sense of humour. Graham is currently living in north Shropshire, where he is busy working on novel number three.
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