Tag Archives: editing

My publishing journey: Revising the novel (again and again and again)

There is a certain trend within the huge volume of writing about publishing on the Internet, which I think of as being the writing advice equivalent of grimdark. The people who give grimdark writing advice point out how incredibly difficult it is to get a foothold in publishing. They explain at length how small the rewards are, how disheartening the challenges, how huge and cold and indifferent the world is when you are a writer who is just starting out — and even worse, when you are a writer who is getting established. When you are a writer who was successful but whose sales have begun to decline. When you are a writer full stop.

When you read this type of advice you get the impression that in order to be a published author you need to be made entirely of bones and steel. You need to be willing to rip out all your own tender feelings with your own teeth and burn them on a pyre along with every first draft of everything you have ever written. You basically need to be a sort of combo of the meanest Transformer and Godzilla.

I don’t mean to suggest that this type of advice is not true. But as with all single depictions of the world, it only shows one aspect and it’s only true for some people some of the time. (The triumphalist stories of glorious, easy success are also only true for some people some of the time, of course.) If you’ve read my fiction it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m of the “pine woods are as real as pig-sties” school of thought, but I’m also conscious that nobody will believe in the scent of pine unless there’s a smell of pig-sties lurking underneath it. Because the real world has both — but probably more pig-sties.

Anyway, this is a rambly way to say that I’m going to talk about the hard part. I have tried in this series to be encouraging and optimistic, because I feel like the kind of tough love that is all “suck it up! become a killer writing machine! you will never make it if you don’t write every day while swallowing raw egg yolks and juggling live babies, all at the same time!” is often likeliest to discourage people from traditionally marginalised backgrounds, who are more likely not to trust themselves and their abilities. If the approach lights a fire under anyone’s ass it’s probably going to be the asses of privileged entitled people, which, frankly, are warm enough already.

But I guess part of being encouraging is being honest about the hard parts. If you have ever said to me, “I’ve always wanted to write but I’m too busy” and seen my face twitch slightly, I will explain why here.

I mean, I totally know how you feel! You have my genuine sympathy! I know balancing life and obligation and art is hard! But here is how I feel.

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My approach to editing

pendrecarc asked about my approach to editing.

It differs as between short stories and longer form fiction. With short stories I like to put a first draft aside to stew in its own juices for at least a couple of weeks. Then I print it off, go through it with a red pen, input my changes into the Word doc (usually changing the formatting to Standard Manuscript Format, if I haven’t already done that), and send it out. Between submissions I sometimes do edits, e.g. to reduce word count so it complies with the requirements of a particular venue, but otherwise I don’t do many passes on a short story.

Which isn’t to say I don’t do relatively major edits — I have cut out whole scenes and put in new ones, but that’s generally done on that single initial pass. I also don’t use any tools except the hard copy manuscript of the story itself, and maybe some paper to make notes on, if the notes can’t fit on the margins.

In my experience editors haven’t tended to ask for major edits to short stories. Which makes sense, I guess, because with a short story there is only so much you can change before it stops looking like the short story you bought in the first place.

With longer stories my approach is broadly the same, but I do more passes — a couple for The House of Aunts, spread over several months (though I wasn’t working on it continuously all those months) and a couple for Jade Yeo, but not really structural edits. The novel I’m currently working on has involved more editing than I’ve ever done before, and it’s been very educational! Continue reading