I’ve started the editing process.
Wait, editing? Editting? Meh, fuck it. I’ll fix that later.
Right after I finish regrouting the tile. Because that sounds more fun than editing.
Man, I thought it was easy to get distracted away from writing. Then I started editing, and hoo boy. Any chance I can sign up for a root canal surgery or something?
I’ll just blog something instead. Nothing makes writing seem more appealing than editing.
It turns out there’s a lot more “how to’s” about writing than there are about editing. Everything’s all like “Yeah, just keep writing. Get that first draft done. If it sucks, you can fix it in the second draft. You can’t edit a blank page.”
So I finished my first draft. Woo-hoo!
Then they say to let it sit for at least a month, better yet two, so that you can edit it with a fresh set of eyes.
So I waited two months. Even though it took me four years to write in the first place, so Chapter One should have Fresh Eyes, regardless.
Then I waited two more months. And another two. It’s now been close to a year since I finished the book. Five years since I started it.
Because every time I started to think that maybe I should get around to editing, I would realize that it’s 120,000 fucking words. Good God. When I’m looking for a book on Audible, I don’t like them going over twelve hours. This polemic I wrote would be twenty hours. And bear in mind these are 120,000 words of mistakes and typos and characters that drastically changed from the beginning to the end.
But I’m finally doing it. Let me dust off Chapter One, written in November of 2014, and see what I can do.
Back to the writer websites and podcasts:
Write the First Draft. Check.
Let it sit (at least) two months. Check.
Hey, here’s a blog entry about sentence structure.
Because nobody wants to talk about editing.
I did find one podcast, Story Grid, but it’s a really boring podcast. They want me to buy their book, so they never actually say how to make a story grid. It’s just a dude talking about his specific book, and it’s a book that sounds like a boring rip-off of Hunger Games. So I make it about five minutes into each episode before giving up.
Then I edit for five minutes and think that this OTHER episode of the podcast sounds super interesting.
Step number one, according to Story Grid, is to read the entire book while taking notes. Don’t touch a thing. Don’t fix typos. Just read the whole fucking thing.
Hmm…. Let me see if I can find other guides.
Allegedly Lee Child doesn’t edit his books at all. He writes from beginning to end, then gives it to his publisher to fix typos. I guess that’s easier to do when you write pretty much the same story over and over.
I once found a “four color” editing process where you print out a copy of your book and you read through it using four colored pencils to mark four different types of things to fix. It promised that it would become a one pass-through process. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what any of the colors were for. All I can think is, holy shit, there are FOUR things I have to fix on my second draft?
That’s what comes after the first draft, right? The second draft?
Wait, second draft? As in, this manuscript that it took me four years to write, I now have to start over from scratch? Rewrite the whole thing? I want to EDIT, not REWRITE.
In my mind, I really just wanted to go through the book once. Move this thing here, delete that passage there, add a little background to that one scene, change a few “teh”s to “the”s and voila, start the super-fun querying process.
But everything I’m looking at says to go macro first. Read the whole thing, then rewrite it all. Write a second draft, then to start over with the third draft.
Does Stephen King do this? Because it takes me two years to read through one of his books, and he publishes seventy-five per year, give or take. George R.R. Martin says he hasn’t finished writing the next Game of Thrones yet. When he finishes it, is he going to let it sit for a season, then rewrite it twelve times? Good God, he’s never going to finish.
So I decided to say fuck it all, and do things my way. Sure, some of these guys are published. But everybody’s different, right? I’ll just fix it as I go and wrap this shit up in a week.
So I started with Chapter One.
Fixed a couple typos. Cut out some of the excessive internal monologue. And does the reader really need to know the layout of the village the main character lives in? No, maybe not. Clean. Polish. And that’s not a bad first chapter. See? I’ve got this. Bite me, Story Grid podcast.
Why is that foreboding music playing in the background?
On to Chapter Two.
Fix. Clean. Polish. And you know what? Now that I think of it… Do I need Chapter One at all?
A lot of the writing advice I’ve seen says that many books start too early. Chapter One is often groundwork, background information that can easily be sprinkled in later. Some books don’t really get into the plot until you’re 10,000 words in.
I also saw an agent say she couldn’t stand the fact that so many fantasy novels start with the main character harvesting crops. Sure, how else can you make a “Farm Boy Saves the World” story without having him start on a farm. Even if it is a moisture farm on Tatooine.
And here’s where I’m going to do what annoys me about the Story Grid podcast. I’m going to talk about my Work in Progress, which you don’t give a shit about. The difference is I’ll do it for a few paragraphs instead of an hour-long podcast.
First of all, the agent’s comment doesn’t apply to me, because this isn’t a fantasy novel. It’s an alternative history.
But it’s an alternative history such that the Middle Ages never really ended. So it reads like a fantasy. Hmmm…..
And you see, my character isn’t HARVESTING crops in the first scene. He’s PLANTING them. TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!!!
Okay, so is the first chapter really necessary? Ask yourself, the pros say, why does the story start here?
Well, you see, they’re about to leave their manor to travel to a festival many miles away.
Well, on the way to the festival, they’re going to stop at a tavern and meet the guys that introduce them to the rebellion and whatnot.
So why is he planting shit?
Umm… Because he’s a peasant.
Why doesn’t the book start when he gets to the tavern?
Umm… Did I mention I have a mental map of the village?
Okay, so what if I just start it in Chapter Two? And I can move this part about cotton, which will play into the rest of the book, into a conversation with the girl traveling with him. And all of his whining about the state of feudalism? Well, if he’s already thinking all of that stuff, then what’s the point of the guys who bring him into the Rebellion. Okay, I’ll cut that out. And maybe the third important tidbit from Chapter One can be added later when he meets that one other character. I know precisely where it will go.
After all, I just finished poring over Chapter One word by word.
When I was editing it.
Right before deleting it.
Maybe I should’ve, I don’t know, read my whole book first. It would’ve saved me all that time going back over Chapter One. I wonder if that’s why they suggest it?
Okay, so after reading the first 20,000 words or so, the first major arc, I decided that I now knew where the book should start. On the fourth paragraph of Chapter Two. And I’m going to cut and paste some of those parts from the old Chapter One and split the old Chapter Two into two chapters. One approaching the tavern, one in the tavern.
Except I’m not cutting and pasting. Because the wording doesn’t work when he’s standing on a bridge into town instead of planting crops back at home. And while I’m at it, some of his conversations are going to change a little bit. And you know what? That female character needs some agency. Because I know what’s going to happen to her, and it shouldn’t come from out of the blue that she’s got so much inner strength. Plus, if I change her from “The One He’s Always Wanted” to “The Only Girl Around His Age In His Tiny Village,” it’ll make it more pronounced when he meets his True Love later.
So how do I go about keeping most of the words the same, changing a few things subtly, and tweaking a character all at once?
Well, I open two Word Docs. Old one on the right, new one on the left. And then I, you got it…
Oh, is this what they call a second draft?