Going Down

You thought it was finished? So did I. But the word-cull continues

scissors-editLast autumn, when I drew a line under my 6th or 7th redraft of Singled Out, I honestly thought it was finished; finished as far my neophyte novelist’s abilities would allow at least. But armed with some insightful observations and having taken a few months away from the words, things look different.

I’m around two-thirds of the way through yet another edit – the one I didn’t realise I needed. And here I am deleting not just words, but whole sentences, whole paragraphs too. Here I am turning a paragraph into a sentence and still… still… deleting adjectives and adverbs. Yes, the more you look, the more you find. It’s wordy Whack-a-Mole.

When I began submitting Singled Out to agents it stood at 97,600 words. This summer in response to feedback, I’ve added three new sections, perhaps a total of around 1,500 words. But the word-count is down to 94,000.

How did that happen?

I think, at last, I’ve begun to relinquish my grip on those favourite sections – those darlings – which have thus far had a free-pass from the editor’s pen; those (not so) clever turns of phrase that looked so… so… writerly when they went in; those extravagant why-use-one-word-when-twenty-will-do descriptive sections; and those parts of the story where I’ve failed to trust the reader to get what’s going on.

This is what you need distance for; to develop the ability – and willingness – to be dispassionate. At last I’m editing as if it wasn’t me but someone else who has written Singled Out. I can cull great chunks I couldn’t bear to part with before because, somehow, they don’t feel like mine any more.

Frustrating though it is to have not seen immediate success with submitting my manuscript, I can see why I’ve not made the cut (no pun intended). I don’t know if I’ll have done enough to see a positive outcome when I go back to agent submissions in a few weeks time – the odds are against me, after all. But I continue – in a perverse and yes, almost sadistic way – to draw satisfaction and even joy from the learning process.

At this point, I want to get Singled Out out there in one form or another – because I want to see the job finished. More than that, I’m now straining to get started on my next novel, the one where I think I can bring all my learnings into play and create something better and sharper – hopefully in somewhat less than four years.

8 thoughts on “Going Down

  1. It’s good to get time away from our work so we can approach it with a more objective eye. But it’s still not easy, is it? My second novel is in the hands of an editor now. She’ll be done soon, but what she’s sent me so far is great. It’s nice to have an objective reader slash through lines that are verbose or words that are unclear, etc. It’s also nice when you reach a stage in your writing when you welcome the advice and changes rather than get defensive about them.

    I wish you the best of luck with your queries! It’s definitely a waiting game. Sigh.

    1. That objectivity is hard-won. When you’re learning to write, you want to love everything you’ve written, and you’re ill-prepared to strike a line through words, let alone sentences, paragraphs and even whole scenes. I’ve sensed a change in my own attitude which is making its way on to the page, and that’s progress at least.

      Thanks for your good wishes, and good luck with your editor’s feedback!

  2. You know a really good way to hone your editing skills? Take a newspaper feature and a felt tip pen and strike out the words in it, in order to make a completely new story. It can be as silly as you like. It relieves the tension of editing your own stuff, and it helps you see how other people’s stuff is constructed. And it gives you a fresh perspective. Good luck anyway, Jools. All your efforts will make you a better writer, whatever the outcome.

    1. Sounds fun! And I think a journalist’s skills would come in handy when it comes to editing fiction. I’m keeping on keeping on… but as I said, I am actually enjoying the process. I must be nuts.

  3. Editing is really hard, especially on your first book. I’m lucky that I’ve never been concerned about hacking away at my work. I think it comes from spending a lot of my youth in bands and learning the hard way that it’s the song that is important, not whatever individual role you have in it.
    I’m sure the end result will be worth it. And then there’s the next one… 🙂

  4. Good post – in our rush to get a result, an opinion that ‘really’ matters, we do send things out too early. It’s time consuming to leave the novel aside then come back to it, but well worth it and a valuable experience for approaching the 2nd, 3rd, 4th …. book. Good luck with it.

    1. Thank you! It’s amazing what you notice after letting your story lie undisturbed for a few weeks. Another part of the learning experience.

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