They warned me about this and I didn’t listen…
I thought Oh, this editing lark will be easy. Like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw. It’ll be straightforward and pleasing. It’ll probably take me an afternoon or two.
My jigsaw metaphor is right. That is if you’re missing a hundred pieces and the tiles of other jigsaws are thrown in there just to shake things up a little.
Last week, Thursday evening, I poured myself a glass of Scotch, put on some Chet Baker and sat down to read the first draft of my novel. This’ll be nice, I thought.
Five hours later, I was an overwhelmed, confused mess.
How the hell am I going to pull something readable out of all that crap?
It wasn’t all bad. The later scenes are stronger than the earlier ones. I suppose this is because I had an idea where I was going by then. I’d whacked a chase scene in there on a whim and it actually turned out to be pretty exciting. There are a few passages where I play with dreamlike imagery – they weren’t bad either. And while not predominantly a horror novel, some parts were downright scary. All good stuff.
But the plot was a mess. Too many characters, not enough motivation.
So I took Stephen King’s advice and let ‘the boys in the basement’ do their work. The novel swam around in my subconscious for a day or so and then certain parts seemed to click, rising to the surface at unexpected moments.
I was in Sainsbury’s Local with my wife. We were buying courgettes and teabags (I know how to show a girl a good time), when suddenly I pulled my phone out and started stabbing at it.
‘What’s up?’ she said.
‘Severed head arrives in the mail,’ I replied, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
‘Oh,’ she said. She knows me well enough by now to realise there in no point in trying to elicit a coherent answer from me when I’m jabbering about things like characterisation and dismemberment.
By Saturday, my inbox was overflowing with ideas I’d emailed to myself.
Blend these two characters into one.
Cut out this person.
This guy has his head melted with acid.
That sort of stuff.
And I realised another thing – my novel has a twist. I didn’t even know it was there until I started rearranging the parts.
Now I have to stitch it all together.
When you’re writing a first draft, it’s just a stream of consciousness, guided by whatever vague plan you have laid out for yourself. Editing is when you have to put that shit under a microscope. And some of it’s pretty ugly.
The good news is that I think this actually might work out quite well.
I’ve edited roughly 10% so far, so I’ve got a long way to go. And after that, I envisage at least two more (very heavy) edits. But it’s working, ladies and gentlemen. It’s working!
And it feels great. I’ve created a world. The characters are now making their own decisions. I just have to guide them and paint the picture.
And those people who tell you not to bother writing a novel? Fuck ’em.