If writing is like painting, then editing is like sculpting.
With writing, it’s about building up layers. Applying paint on top of paint. First you slather on blocks of colour to a blank canvas. Then you make your brush strokes heavier, more deliberate, the colours varied, more kaleidoscopic. You work this way, adding layer on top of layer, until finally you’ve switched to the nib-tipped brush for the small, crowning details.
I’ve found editing to be the opposite. Before you is the hunk of wood, and you’re left with a chisel to chip away the bark and unwanted wood, doing so until the desired shape begins to form.
Week 18 was very much a painting week.
After redrafting (really, rewriting) Chapter 3 on Monday, I turned to Chapter 4. Originally this chapter contained two conversations from the same narrative, but I made the decision some time ago to give each conversation their own chapter. The first has stayed as Chapter 4, while the second has become the new Chapter 7.
This decision has allowed the chapters to breathe more and for me to tell a bit more story in each—I could include necessary detail without feeling conscious the chapter was becoming bloated. They each end on a cliffhanger, too: now both are given the suspense they deserve.
The drafting (which was about 50-50 rewrite/redraft) took a week, and there isn’t too much to say about it, other than it was a very up-and-down week.
I would finish one day on a high, only to finish the next on a low. This would repeat each day and I found it was due to my layering technique. I was pleased when I felt I’d added new, important layers, but I was unsatisfied if I knew these weren’t complete and layers remained missing.
This never became frustrating though.
It only meant I made more notes that evening to be used the following day. I ended up feeling very content with both chapters and this was down as much to the low days as it was the high ones, as the low days forced me to think of ways to improve and then do just that. (Or so I hope!)
As I said in my last post, I’m trying to leave each chapter with the feeling that it’s my best one yet. Once I’d spent a few days writing Chapter 4, I moved onto Chapter 7, before going back again to add what I believed was missing.
In the first few months of writing, as well as hitting targets I was also leaving chapters with a feeling of discontent and knowing they weren’t as good as they could (or should) be. Now I’m only moving on when I feel I’ve written the best chapter possible—for that moment in time: I intend to improve upon it in the future, of course.
Week 19, meanwhile, was a sculpting week.
Chapter 6 is the first chapter which has been true editing—that is, no chunks of complete rewrites. I had the hunk of wood and my chisel, and I chip, chip, chipped away for three days—removing 2,500 unwanted words—until I was left with what I consider to be a strong chapter.
It’s the start of Narrative 5, and is presented so each page is split into two columns: a present and a past narrative. The idea is the reader can choose how to read the chapter. They can either read one narrative as whole before reading the next, or they can go from page to page alternating between the two. Hopefully this will add a uniqueness to Everborne as well as a different experience for each reader. There is a reason for this which relates to the story, and I talk about that here, as well as the differences between the narratives.
As one of the narratives was written in a very lean prose (no adjectives or adverbs, short sentences, stripped punctuation etc.—again to reflect the story), it didn’t mean all that I removed was bad writing. Some I felt was good, but in the context of the story it was unessential. Knowing this made the changes easier to make. Due to the strict limitations of the style, I had to be through, merciful.
Whilst not confined to the same conventions for other narratives, this precision will no doubt come in handy for future drafting, just as re-writing at the moment will only benefit future writing. Every time I do something, I learn from it.
It felt so good to chip away all those words. I felt that what I was left with wasn’t the hunk of wood but the desired form I’d been working towards, as well as that feeling that what I’d written was one of my best chapters yet.
It was also like panning for gold as a child. Once you’ve rid yourself of the mud and stones and other gold-like lumps, you’re left with what puts a smile on your face.
At the end of January, I’ve been able to draft (a lot of rewriting, I admit) six chapters and the prologue, all of which I’m very pleased with. I’ve cut 16,600 words from the original draft as well, which I’m also very pleased with, leaving me with a total of 31,800 words, not 48,500.
Less mud, more gold.
I’m feeling a lot more confident about Everborne as a whole. Each chapter is now the length it should be, all of which are well paced and not suffering from bloating. This assures me about writing the whole novel. While it will still be a long book—I always knew it would be—it’s now going to be a realistic length. I didn’t feel this was true with the original word count as it was too long for what I had. If I keep going the way I am, I should have a much more realistic word count for the amount of work I have and for the story I want to tell.
Since I’ve begun writing Everborne, I’ve yet to have that “Monday Feeling”. I never dread returning to work. In fact, I end most Fridays wishing it were Thursday, that I still had that extra day of writing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my weekends—the break from writing is also essential as it allows time for reflection on ways to strengthen my work—but I’m very fortunate that I get to spend each day doing what I love—no wonder January zipped by. I just hope I can one day make this into a living.
(This is my ghostwriter, Chester (one of the dogs I care for—he’s gorgeous). He gets paid in treats and belly rubs and reassurances that he’s a very good boy—which he is.)