The Painful (but essential) Process of Editing

John’s Oxford English Dictionary defines editing as; ‘a process that reduces grown adults to tears in less than 60 seconds’.  You spend a huge bulk of your time writing a play, a short story, a 30 page report you’re due to present at a meeting, or in my case the second of many novels I have planned.   The word ‘editing’ is a foreign object in your mind at this stage. Your initial relief at having finished such a project is coupled with joy!  It’s amazing how much you’ve been able to write.  You recall the moments your fingers flew across the keyboard, and the times you managed to pull out 250 words from the stickiest mud you can imagine.  You feel proud; elated even.

After you’ve recovered from a weekend/weeks long celebration hangover, you fumble your way back to your manuscript and read the first line.  Your stomach lurches when you realise your perfect project is actually a mess of confused nonsense and half baked ideas you vomited out.  You begin to cry as your red pen makes more strikethroughs and crosses then it does smiley faces.  Gradually you realise your perfect project is not so perfect and needs something all writing projects need:

EDITING

Editing Pain

When I first completed NanoWrimo in 2013, I had 75,000 words of a book I’d called ‘The Spy Who Didn’t Love Me’, a comedy about an MI6 spy who’s the opposite to James Bond.  To be honest I was just pleased that I’d managed to write that much.  The pain came when I went to revisit the manuscript several months later; I had to walk away in disgust.  There were some good ideas and concepts, and even some entertaining characters, but the manuscript as a whole was a total mess.  I just couldn’t see it at first.  There was no satisfying ending and the middle was saggy to say the least.  It was my first time completing a novel draft and I learned a lot about how I write and what I want to write.  That experience hurt so much that I have yet to go back and revisit ‘The Spy’ for editing.

Fortunately the experience also encouraged me to keep going and hone my craft.  So over the past year I went ahead with two other projects, one of which (The Earth Experiment) is nearly ready for submitting to agents for consideration.  If it’s rejected the first time (which it could be – success doesn’t happen right away no matter what you might read) I will absorb any further editorial feedback and push forward again, or go with an independent publishing option.

Whatever option ends up being the right one for me, I know that editing is essential for success.  I had 8 beta readers for the second draft of ‘The Earth Experiment’ along with a structural editor to help me develop the manuscript and get it to its current stage.  Their insights and comments were all things I could not pick up on myself.  It was both positive, painful (one person’s feedback went to eight pages and he literally tore my manuscript to pieces), and necessary.  My writer’s group Spectrum gave further help on the opening chapter and their feedback has helped me tighten and hone the story even more.    Even though this process hurt, it was helpful and I and my story survived it.  This is the thing to remember about good editing on anything you’re writing; even if you feel you’re under siege, your work will survive and will come out better the other side.

Editing Forward

I should be happy with my progress since 2013, and I am – I have three novels on paper with one almost at a reputable reading stage, hundreds of published articles online and off, a bigger list of contacts, past and planned speaking engagements…so why do I still doubt myself?  I think it’s because I’m a human being and a writer, which means I’m always questioning myself at EVERY stage of the process.  However it is thanks to a continual editing process that in around two month’s time (maybe less), I’ll be ready to start touting more of my wares to the wider reading and publishing world.

So whether you’ve written a play, a report, an essay, a novel or a script; never underestimate the power and importance of a bloody good thorough edit.  And when it’s done, don’t forget to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and try again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some more editing and hope that the new Star Trek film will be good.  It’s out later this month!!

(Check out the song Rhianna did for it below – it’s been stuck in my head for two days)

About the Author

John is an award winning science fiction, horror and fantasy writer. He is also a public speaker and consultant and has worked with Time to Change - a campaign to end mental health stigma - and for Wellment - an organisation that delivers mental health at work training. He loves science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and novels. His work has appeared in Vector Magazine, Ink Pantry, Sci-Fi Bloggers, The Huffington Post and more. His short fantasy "Thanks for Applying" won an Honourable Mention Award in the Writers of the Future competition in 2017. HIs short horror "By the Boiler's Hand" was longlisted for the 2018 James White Award and won an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future competiton the same year. John has spoken at several events including the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London, Bristol Con 2018, and the Moorfields NHS Trust. He has delivered masterclasses on ending mental health stigma in the workplace for Time to Change. He lives with his wife and a pile of books in the UK.

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