How I edit my novels - from first draft to completed manuscript
I've blogged before about different aspects of the writing process, including plotting and how I organise my working day. This week I'd like to focus on the editing cycle. As part of my contract with Lake Union, my first novel, 'His Kidnapper's Shoes', underwent revision prior to being republished by Amazon, and that proved a fascinating, as well as novel, experience!
When I started my writing journey, I lacked the funds for a professional editor. (They don't come cheap!) Instead, I did the best I could myself. Now I'm with Lake Union, all that's changed, because Amazon pick up the costs. Until now, my editing process has gone as follows. First, I set the manuscript aside for at least a month, so that when I return to it, I do so with a fresh eye. My first drafts are rough, because I prefer to get the story out of my head first and worry about sorting the mess later. In the early stages, I spend a lot of time moving text around, deleting some parts and adding others. Once I have a coherent second draft, I check for correct spelling, punctuation, etc.; I'm a stickler for that sort of thing! I always run my books through Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check as well, though.
Another tool I use, and love, is Pro Writing Aid. There's a free version, but I use the premium one for its extra features, and have a lifetime subscription. Pro Writing Aid will tell me when I've used the same word too often in close proximity, check for clichés and redundancies, perform a grammar check, and much more.
The next step is to tighten and prune my prose. It's scary how many unnecessary words I find! Often I shed several thousand during this stage. By the time I've done all this, the novel is, with any luck, slimmer and fitter.
Scrivener helps every step of the way
I also run each chapter through a checklist. Does it start with a bang? Will the ending lead the reader to the next chapter and create excitement? Have I included enough (but not too much) description and sensory details? Is the pacing right? I try to view it from a reader's point of view, which is hard for me, as I need to switch hats!
At the end of all this, I read the manuscript several times to make sure it's as good as I can make it. This is hard because I can waste lots of time tweaking tiny details - at some stage I need to release the book to my wonderful beta readers! I have several people who provide feedback on what they like and don't like, what works and what doesn't. I implement most of their advice; it's rare for me to reject anything they say. After all, they come to the novel with a fresh eye, whereas by this stage I'm usually jaded!
For me, editing is the longest part of the process, but unlike some writers, it's something I love doing. I find great satisfaction in polishing my first drafts (believe me, they really are rough!) into something better. I use Scrivener to organise every step of the way. Scrivener is software designed for writers, and has revolutionised my writing. If I could marry a piece of software, it would probably be this one!
My experience with a professional editor
I'll continue to use this process I've outlined above, because it works well for me, but things worked differently for the two novels I've published with Lake Union. Here's how it's worked so far. Soon after I sent 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' to Sammia, my Amazon contact, she assigned Gillian Holmes as the book's editor. Gillian has over twenty years' experience in the industry and has worked with big names such as Kathy Reichs and Tony Parsons, so I was delighted!
First she emailed me her overall impressions of the book and her main recommendations, along with my manuscript containing her detailed notes. Next Sammia organised a conference call between the three of us. She wanted to ensure I understood the process before I got stuck in, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness. I did wonder what Gillian might want to see changed in the book, not because I'm arrogant and consider it perfect, but because I'm too close to it to be objective. All her recommendations made sense and echoed some of the less favourable reviews I've received. She asked me to tone down the sex and swearing, and make Daniel Bateman a more likeable character. With that in mind, I set to work.
I needed to learn Microsoft Word's 'track changes' feature but my inner geek enjoys stuff like that! It didn't take long to implement Gillian's recommendations. My experience of working with her has been very positive. Once I'd experienced the huge benefits of having a professional editor, I asked Gillian to edit my fiction titles that don't fall under my Amazon contract. I'm keen to make my novels as polished as possible, especially now I've joined the Alliance of Independent Authors, a professional writers' association.
I'm happy to answer any questions you have about how novelists (well, me - I can't answer for everyone) edit their books. Leave a comment and let me know!
In this week's post, I continue my 'Five' series, examining novels that proved highly controversial on their release. I'm a firm believer in adults being able to read whatever they choose. In my view, just because a book offends some people (usually because of sex or religion, those perennially divisive subjects!) it's no reason to deny it to others. The difficulty for this post was, of course, narrowing my selection down to five! Authors have frequently challenged prevailing social attitudes, giving me a deep pool from which to make my selection. Eventually I chose the following novels.
1. 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley wrote 'Brave New World' in 1931, with publication taking place in 1932. From the start, the novel sparked controversy, being banned in Ireland on the grounds of offensive language and anti-religious themes. Not much has changed in the decades since, with the novel becoming one of the most hotly debated books in America. Readers have been infuriated by its sexually explicit scenes and bad language. It has also been banned in India due to its sexual content. As if that weren't enough, in 1982 Polish author Antoni Smuszkiewicz accused Huxley of plagiarism, citing two Polish novels written in the 1920s. According to him, their similarity to 'Brave New World' was so great that Huxley must have poached their plots. It's definitely a controversial book!
Here's a synopsis: Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress... Sounds fascinating! I can't believe I've not yet read this classic novel, so it's going on my list.
2. 'Ulysses' by James Joyce
'Ulysses' first appeared in serial form and was then published as a novel in 1922 in Paris. Why France, when Joyce was Irish and the serialisation took place in an American journal? Controversial from the start, the book was banned in Ireland, the United States and Britain because it was considered obscene. As well as sexual imagery, 'Ulysses' includes detailed descriptions of bodily functions such as masturbation, menstruation and defecation. The Parisian publishing house clearly wasn't fazed by such matters. The book recounts the various events which befall Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in Dublin on 16 June 1904, including Bloom's wife, Molly, committing adultery. Hailed by critics such as T S Eliot yet reviled by others, e.g. Virginia Woolf, the serialised version was the subject of an obscenity trial in the US, leading to the novel being banned in that country. Copies were burned and incoming shipments were seized by customs officials. In the 1930s a US court ruling overturned the obscenity charge, making America the first English-speaking country to allow the book.
What fascinates me is the unusual structure. Joyce divided 'Ulysses' into eighteen chapters called episodes, saying he had "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant". The characters and theme of each episode correspond to those in Homer's 'Odyssey'. Sounds intriguing - another one for my reading list!
3. 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D H Lawrence
First published in Italy in 1928, the full version of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' didn't appear in the UK until 1960. Upon its release, the publishers, Penguin Books, were tried under The Obscene Publications Act 1959, making this an important test case for the new law. The book had become notorious for its story of the relationship between two individuals from different social classes, explicit descriptions of sex and profanity. The verdict, a triumph for common sense and literary freedom in my opinion, was a 'not guilty' one. To twenty-first century readers, the book won't deliver the same kind of shock it did in the nineteen twenties. Back then, the sexual content and swearing held far more power to offend, but I suspect the main reason for the disapproval it generated was the story's crossing of class divisions. The book has also been banned and featured in obscenity trials in Australia, America, Japan, India and Canada.
Here's a synopsis: Constance Reid marries Sir Clifford Chatterley, who becomes paralysed from the waist down after the First World War. Desperate for an heir and embarrassed by his inability to satisfy his wife sexually, Clifford gives the go-ahead for her to have an affair, envisaging she will choose someone from their immediate social circle. Instead, Constance begins a passionate relationship with their married gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, inciting Clifford's ingrained class prejudices. The story ends with Mellors working on a farm, waiting for his divorce, with Connie, now pregnant, living with her sister. The expectation is that, eventually, they will be together.
4. 'Tropic of Cancer' by Henry Miller
Henry Miller wrote 'Tropic of Cancer' in the early 1930s, and it was originally published in Paris in 1934. The book was banned in the US for more than thirty years because it was considered pornographic. Grove Press published it in America in 1961, leading to more than sixty obscenity trials until (finally!) the Supreme Court ruled it a work of literature in 1964. Other English-speaking countries, such as Canada and the UK, banned 'Tropic of Cancer'. Only smuggled copies of the book were available in the United Kingdom from 1934 onwards. Scotland Yard contemplated banning its publication in Britain in the 1960s, but decided against the move because people like T S Eliot were ready to defend the book publicly. Another victory for literary freedom!
So what was all the fuss about? Set in Paris in the 1930s, the book is largely autobiographical, featuring a starving American writer who lives a bohemian life among prostitutes, pimps, and artists. Meaning lots of sex - oh, the horror! Miller gave the following explanation of the book's unusual title. "To me cancer symbolises the disease of civilisation, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch.” Yet another one to add to my reading list!
5. 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov
'Lolita' was written in English by its Russian author, Vladimir Nabokov, and first published in Paris in 1955. It seems French attitudes to controversial subjects are more relaxed than those of the US and UK. I can't help noticing how the books I'm featuring in this post often gained acceptance first in Paris. American and English versions followed in 1958 and 1959. The initial reaction was mixed. Graham Greene, in the Sunday Times, called it one of the three best books of 1955, whereas John Gordon, editor of the Sunday Express, dubbed it the filthiest book he had ever read. The Home Office promptly seized all copies entering the UK, and in 1956 France banned 'Lolita' for two years, thus blotting their liberal copybook. The US, however, reacted differently, and the book has never been banned there. A novel about a man who marries a woman so he can embark upon a relationship with her twelve-year-old daughter is bound to be controversial.
The furore rumbles on today; recent sex abuse cases coming to light have ensured the book remains a source of debate. Critics disagree as to whether Lolita was a victim or a willing participant in her sexual relationship with the protagonist Humbert Humbert. Some have interpreted their liaison not as the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. Others have labelled Humbert a rapist and paedophile. The book's influence is such that the name Lolita has passed into common usage to describe a sexually provocative young girl.
Let's hear from you!
Have you read any of the books I've featured in this post? Do any of them offend you? Or perhaps you consider them victims of outmoded thinking? Leave a comment and let me know!
In this week's post I'd like to examine the stereotype of writers as tortured geniuses. It's a cliché, but one backed up by life. Examples of tormented authors abound; take Sylvia Plath, author of 'The Bell Jar', who was clinically depressed for most of her adult life and committed suicide in 1963. Or Ernest Hemingway, renowned for his hard drinking and womanising, who shot and killed himself. Jack London, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell - the list goes on, and it's a long and unhappy one.
A recent study found that, with the exception of bipolar disorder, creative types are no more likely to suffer psychiatric problems than anyone else. Apart from writers, that is. We're more disposed, it seems, towards depression and schizophrenia. More prone to committing suicide, too. Here's the link to an NHS report on the study: Study looks at creativity link with mental illness.
As someone interested in the workings of the brain, I find this fascinating, and frustrating that the study didn't identify possible reasons. I'm fortunate in that I've always enjoyed good mental health; I've blogged before about how I don't use my fiction as a catharsis for my demons, because those pesky little devils are few and far between. I'm aware, though, that other authors are different. Take my writing idol, Stephen King. I can't find the link, but I remember reading that he uses his fiction, especially his earlier works, to resolve childhood issues. He's also a writer who has battled alcoholism and drug addiction. In addition, at least one writer friend uses her books to resolve personal angst.
I suspect certain genres lend themselves as avenues for exploring one's malaise. It's no coincidence that not many emotionally tortured writers have penned light romances or children's books. King's preference for writing horror and supernatural fiction is a great example. My own genre, psychological suspense, certainly lends itself to examining the darker side of life, but (thank God!) the events in my books have never featured in my own experience. If writing is cathartic, though, shouldn't authors be less, not more, prone to mental health issues? Or perhaps, for some people, it helps a little but their issues run deeper than fiction can heal. Who knows?
My conviction is that our minds are far more complex than we can understand, at present anyway. And other creative professions, such as art and music, are by no means exempt - Van Gogh and Nick Drake, anyone? Take a recent study conducted by Help Musicians UK, which found that over 60% of musicians suffer some form of mental health issue. Such problems can affect anyone, at any age, whatever their profession. Despite what the survey found, I'm not sure they're linked to creativity.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!