• Chapter Fourteen - Editing

    24 August 2010

    Writing pretty much breaks down into two seperate skills, both of which you must learn to master if you wish to progress—writing a good first draft of a book, and editing that draft into final shape. In fact, the editing and re-writing is the most crucial part of the process—learning to write a good first draft is a huge help, but it’s not essential if you have the skills to re-work a weak draft into something much sleeker and more effective. I spend far more of my time editing than I do writing first drafts, so this chapter is one of the lengthiest I’ve written, as I think it’s important to stress the need to focus on your editing skills. It’s also quite repetetive, but that’s intentional—one of the things you have to adjust to when you’re editing is going over the same material again and again and again and…

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    Started editing book 6 of “The Demonata” again yesterday, and have got more than a third of the way through it—at this advanced stage, it normally only takes me a few days to edit a book, since all I’m doing is fine-tuning, trying to read it as a reader will, and making subtle nips and tucks. I wrote the first draft of book 6 back in March 2004 (over 2 years ago!!!) and this is the seventh draft. It’s also probably the last “solo” draft that I’ll do on it—after this, my editor will chip in with her comments and suggestions, and we’ll move into the finishing straight. Two years ... A long time, eh?!? I always know when I start a first draft that it’s going to be a long process, and that by the time it sees print I’ll have moved on in life by a sizeable chunk. I try not to think about all the months and years that lie ahead of a story when I begin—it would prove too off-putting otherwise!!! BY the time I get to the end of a book, I’ve often forgotten the origins, because so much time has passed!!! I know book 6 was actually the fourth book about demons that I wrote ... and I know it started (as “Bec” did) on a visit I made to Mitchelstown Caves a year or two earlier ... and I know I wrestled with it for a long time before I started to write, trying to figure out all the plot lines and make everything work. But if you asked me to describe the run-up to writing, what I was thinking about, what was happening in my life, why I felt compelled to write that particular book at that particular time ... I honestly couldn’t tell you!!! And you know what? I don’t think it really matters! With a book, the end product is all that counts. You, the fans, never see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the making of a book, and I doubt if any of you really want to, because, in truth, the road to publishing is long and pretty boring!!! It’s one of ironies of being a writer (or just about anybody creative, I think)—if you want to make an exciting, fast-paced, groundbreaking story, you have to be prepared to put in a LOT of slow, frustrating, nitpicking hours of hard graft!!!!!

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    Started editing the page proofs of book 5 of “The Demonata” (which is called “Blood Beast”, if you didn’t already know; it goes on sale in the UK in June 2007, and in the USA in the fall 2007). Proofs are when a book is put together to look like it will when it’s actually published. But you can go through them one last time at this stage, to make any last-minute changes or corrections. I started the first draft of “Blood Beast” 3 years ago (it was actually the third book in the series that I wrote). It doesn’t seem that long, but that’s what it says on my computer, so it must be. It’s kinda strange, I guess, to be working on a story that’s already been in existence for 3 years, but that’s how I like to work on all my stuff (2 years is the average). I like lots of time to tinker with a book, to get it JUST right.

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    I edited some more of “Procession of the Dead” today. I’m not making any real changes (by the proofs stage, a book should be pretty much ready to do), but I’m implementing a few little tweaks and alterations. e.g. if I spot a word that I’ve used too many times, I’ll try to change it. Or if there’s a cliched phrase that I don’t like, I take it out. All very minor stuff, but I like to polish my books up as much as I possibly can, even if it’s tiny details which nobody else except me is going to notice.

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    I started editing Book 8 of “The Demonata” again today. This is the fourth draft of the book. It’s been just over a year since I last worked on it. That’s how I like to write—do a first draft, leave it a few months, do another draft, leave it a while, do another draft, etc. I normally wouldn’t leave such a long time between drafts, but I’ve had lots of other things to work on over the last year, and I was very pleased with the previous draft, so I wanted to give myself enough time away from it to get over my pleasure—you should never be too happy about a draft you’ve just completed, because you should always be looking for flaws and way to improve it—I can guarantee you, if YOU don’t find the flaws before a story is published, your readers WILL!!!!

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    Edited almost 50 pages of Book 8 of “The Demonata”, which I was very pleased with. I’m not making any critical changes, but I’m finding plenty of ways to tighten things up. I never worry about writing more than I need in an early draft, since I know I’ll have lots of opportunities to go through and spruce things up later. I always think it’s easier to cut something down in an edit than come up with new material. I often let myself waffle on in a first draft, describing more than I need to and adding in unnecessary lines and asides. Then, in later drafts, I focus on what I have and what I NEED, and trim as I see fit. I think a lot of young writers make the mistake of trying to get everything right first time round—when things go wrong, they think the story is a disaster and quit. But a first draft (regardless of whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro) is never more than a starting point. Your only concern should be to finish it—the finished quality and style will come later, in the several re-writes and edits that are necessary for any halfway decent book.

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    Finished my latest edit of Book 8 of “The Demonata”. I hadn’t planned to wrap it up until tomorrow, but I got sucked into it and had to push on!!! I’m very pleased with the book the way it stands, though I found quite a lot to tighten, so I’m probably another couple of drafts away from the actual finish of the book—my general rule of thumb is that if I find a lot to change in the course of an edit, I’m going to find quite a bit to change next time round too! It’s only when I do an edit and execute extremely minor changes that I know I’m coming to the end of the editing process. But, overall, I think book 8 is in very good shape—a few more polishes and it should be ready to roar into action!!!

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    Edited more of book 9 of “The Demonata”. I’ve been cutting out a LOT of material, but I’ll probably go back through it again when I finish, to trim it even further—I want to focus on shaving down those exposition-heavy scenes while they’re fresh in my thoughts!!! The first rule of writing as far as I’m concerned is “Always keep the story moving.” In an ideal world, you should never have to slow down to explain things—they should unravel along with the action. But occasionally there’s no escaping the need to fill readers in, and no easy way to do it. But at least you can look for ways to tighten things up and help readers get through the less action-filled pages as swiftly and comfortably as possible. Book 9’s in a much better state than it was last time round, but I’m not entirely happy with it yet—hopefully another edit will allow me to cut out everything but the absolute essentials in the slower sections, upping the tempo without losing any of the key bits of information which readers will need in order to fully understand the series…

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    It’s amazing the difference a bit of tweaking can do. I’m editing book 10 of “The Demonata” at the moment, and although I’m not making any big changes, I find things to adjust in virtually every paragraph. The more experience you get under your belt, the more ways you find to make your stories flow. It’s often tiny things, like not using the same word twice in successive sentences, or not just putting HE SAID or SHE SAID after quotation marks all the time but finding something more expressive, or taking a few words out of a line. Tiny, tiny changes, but over the course of a book they all add up, and they make the difference between a book flowing smoothly and a book moving forwards in fits and starts. You can never over-estimate the importance of the editing process. I only truly began progressing as a writer when I went back and wrote second drafts and edited them. First drafts are a crucial part of the writing process, but there’s so much more about the business that you only learn by editing. For those looking for advice, here’s a big tip—the sooner you make the decision to move on to the editing process, the quicker you’ll make the leap from being able to write a halfway decent first draft to being able to write a polished, professional, PUBLISHABLE finished book.

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    Returned to my editing duties on book 7 of The Demonata today, armed with my editor’s first set of notes. The way the books come together is like this—I usually do 4 or 5 drafts by myself; then I show the book to my editor. She reads through it a couple of times, then sends me a short list of her general recommendations and comments, e.g. a certain chapter might be a bit slow, or she might think part of the book needs to be cut down or expanded. I then go back and do another draft. She reads that, then sends me a more detailed list of more specific comments and queries. Once I go back over it again, the hard work is usually done, although I’ll normally go through it at least once or twice more, fine-tuning and focusing on really small details. Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, I guess it is—but if you spread it out over 2 or 3 years, as I normally do, it tends to make it easier—you don’t feel as if the book is taking over your life, and you get to work on other books, so it feels fresh every time you return to it. I think most writers focus on one book at a time, doing their re-writes one after the other, until the book is finished. But I find this way of working much more fun!!! Of course, you need a brain that can go away from a story for a year and still keep it alive somewhere at the back of your mind, so that you can pick up smoothly when you return to it—but I think our brains can be much more flexible than we believe they are, if only we test them ...

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    I’ve had a busy couple of days, editing Book 7 of The Demonata. The book is split into three sections (and before any bright spark moots the idea that that’s because it features three narrators—it doesn’t—each book of The Demonata will be told by just one person), and it sort of works like a three-act play. Act 1 is set in a specific location, ditto most of Acts 2 and 3, and each Act revolves around a battle. As I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog, structure is VERY important to me. I’m always playing around with ways to structure and pace a story. I often go along with the simplest way, where you start slow and build up to the action (book 8 will be one of those), since that’s more often than not the best way to tell a tale. But I like to pepper my work with different approaches—I think it’s good to experiment and not just settle for what you know you can do. I’m very pleased with the way Book 7 sits together, and I hope you guys are pleased too when you get to read it!!

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    Started re-editing book 8 of The Demonata today. This is probably the last edit I’ll do solo, i.e. before my editor gets back to me with her notes about it. I started by cutting out most of the opening chapter!! A lot of it was recap, telling about things that had happened in earlier books. I always find it helpful to include a summary of what’s gone on before when I’m starting a later book in the series, as it helps me refresh events in my own mind. But as I move closer to the final edit, I usually cut out most of the recaps, as they’re not really necessary, and in fact can be downright annoying for fans—“Why is he telling us things we already know? Does he think we’re so stupid we can’t remember what happened before?!?” It’s essential, when working on a series, to provide just enough info for newcomers (and those who might not have read the older books in quite a while) to be able to follow what’s going on. But “just enough” is usually all you should include. Sometimes a bit more is needed, but you should always be wary of including too much background filler. Write plenty for yourself - as I did with the early drafts of book 8 - but be prepared to slice it down when you’re coming closer to your final edit.


    One of the good things of doing an edit quite soon after another (I did an edit of book 8 only a few months ago) is that it helps you spot the flaws quicker. I find that if I leave a story for several months or a year, it’s a pleasure to return to it, and sometimes I treat it a bit too respectfully. Having working on book 8 such a short time ago, I’m a little irritated returning to it now, so I want it to flow as smoothly as possible, so that I don’t have too much to do on it next time round. Being a bit irritable, I’m quick to spot sections that aren’t working or need to be cut or severly rewritten. It’s quite satisfying cutting out material in this state of mind, almost like punishing a naughty child—“You offend me, foul line, so I shall banish you from this book forevermore!!!!!” Writing a book is a labour of love, but sometimes you have to ... not exactly hate ... but feel a bit p****d-off at it. Books need knocking into shape, and it’s easier to slap a book about if you have the hump with it and are looking to kick its literary ass!!!!!

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    I started another edit of book 9 of The Demonata yesterday. This has been the most troublesome book of the series, by far. I’m trying to achieve the balance between imparting a lot of facts (which the book has to do) while keeping it pacy and entertaining at the same time. I came up short on previous drafts, but each one has been a bit better, and I’ve got some fresh angles to come at it from this time. Editing is normally quite easy for me, involving mostly tinkering about with what I’ve already written, trimming it down or sharpening it up slightly. But sometimes I have to re-write scenes or create new ones, and I never actively enjoy that. When I’m doing a first draft I fall into a certain mindset—I know the book is going to take time, that I can’t rush it, and I’m happy to take things day by day, page by page, churning out the words. I’m normally fairly patient when working on a first draft, content to put in the time it takes to write such a large amount of new material. But when I come to the editing process I like to move faster, to get into the flow of the story, to try and see what readers are going to experience. When I have to write new material, that slows me down, and I know I’m going to have to do another, extra edit to get back into the flow of the book—which is frustrating!!! It has to be done—if a scene isn’t working, it has to be fixed—but in a way I begrudge having to do it. It’s like part of my brain is screaming at me: “We already did this part of the work! What the hell are you up to?!?” I’ll be fine once I’m done, and I’m sure I’ll be very pleased when I come back and do my next edit, having (hopefully!!!) sorted out the problems in the book. But right now I’m a bit grumpy. Ah well—that’s all part of a writer’s lot! If work was TOO easy, I suppose it would get a bit boring after a while ...

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    Started another edit of Book 10 of The Demonata yesterday. I did an edit just a couple of months ago, but I’d been working on the other books again over the last month and wanted to go through it again while all the details from those were fresh in my mind. When you work on a series, it can be quite tricky tying everything together and making sure there aren’t glaring errors between one book and the next (e.g. saying a character has his left hand chopped off, and then in the next book mistakenly saying he has no right hand). I think most writers have a “bible”, a detailed list of everything that happens in each book and to each character, so that they can simply refer to that when they need to. But I prefer to work without one—I like things chaotic!!! It’s like not using a spell checker on my PC—I prefer to challenge myself, to keep my brain sharp.

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    Today I returned to editing duties, not just on one book, but on two! I began this afternoon (having had other office stuff to deal with in the morning) with the one-off book that I hope to release when The Demonata finishes. Then my editor at HarperCollins sent through her final notes and suggestions for Death’s Shadow (the seventh Demonata book), so I got stuck into that later. I think I’ll juggle the pair around over the coming week—it’s nice to have some variety. I’ve never had a problem multi-tasking when it comes to books. As soon as my eyes alight on the first line on a book I wrote, even if I haven’t looked at it in years, I fall instantly and completely back into that world—but as soon as I stop work on it for the day, I’m able to detach myself just as instantly and completely, and turn if I wish to another book, even if it’s totally different. I don’t plan things out that way—it’s just how my brain works. Hopefully it’ll go on working like that for quite a few years to come ...

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    I finished going through the page proofs of Death’s Shadow today, so work on Book 7 of The Demonata is now officially OVER!!! I began work on the book on March 9th 2005, so it took almost 3 years to the day to bring it to completion, which is about the norm for most of my books. The only one I’ve ever worked on at a more substantially faster pace was Demon Thief, which I squeezed into the space of about a year—the reason being, although it was the second in the series, it was the sixth book that I wrote, and its deadline was looming!!!! That was a one-off, the only time I’ve let myself get in a situation where I’ve promised a book by a certain date, but haven’t actually written it. Most authors do that all the time—they get paid to write, and promise to deliver the book by a certain date—but I find life is much less stressful if I do the work first and only accept payment later. I could probably have spent just a year working on Death’s Shadow, doing my edits without a long gap between them, and the results would have been much the same (Demon Thief taught me that—I didn’t spend any less time working on it, I just worked on the edits a bit quicker together). But that would have been a full-on, hassle-ridden year. I much prefer to give myself lots of time with a book. It helps that I juggle several around at the same time—if I was only working on one book at a time, my preferred way of working would be unviable, as it would mean I only released a book every 2 or 3 years, but since I multi-task, it works out perfectly for me.

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    Started editing book 9 of The Demonata yesterday, after I finished book 8, and carried on working in it today. It’s slower going than the most recent edits of Wolf Island and Hell’s Horizon—they were at the end stage of the editing process, whereas this still has another couple of edits to go. I’m still doing quite a bit of work on it at the moment, writing new lines, taking out things that don’t need to be there, focusing on the pace and feel of the book as a whole, rather than on tidying up specific lines. That’s the way editing goes, a bit like sculpting from a block of stone—you need to chip off big chunks to begin with, to get the general shape of the piece, and then you start picking away at it more carefully, teasing the finer curves into shape.

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    I’ve been steadily working my way through the fantasy book over the last few days—this was a work weekend; I’ll take a day or two off later in the week instead, but right now I’m stuck in the book and don’t want to look up for breath!!! I’m very pleased with how it’s going, and how I’m finding natural ways to tighten it up and move things along a bit quicker. That’s the big advantage of working the way I do, and spreading the writing process out over a number of years. I wrote the first draft of this book in 2003—yes, 5 years ago!!! Having allowed myself so much time to work on it, I’ve been able to get quite objective about it—no writer can ever put themselves entirely outside their work and see it as somebody with no knowledge of the story or vested interest in it can, but it’s possible to get close to that position. When I first worked on it, I felt very close to the story, and didn’t see it the way readers would—it worked for me, but I don’t think it would have worked for a lot of other people! Now that I’m more distanced from it, I’m able to look at it more critically and say “That doesn’t work ... this needs to be changed ... they don’t need to know that much!” Hopefully that will allow me to end up with a book that will be as interesting for others as it has been for me… though I doubt if anyone will spend quite as much time in the world of the book as I have!

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    Spent the weekend and today working on my latest edit of the fantasy book. It’s one that has been part of my world for a long time now. I started the first draft way back in April 2003, finished it a month or two later, but then let it stand for 3 years while I focused on The Demonata. I returned to it two and a half years ago and got stuck into the editing. It’s required a lot of tightening up—the first draft spent far too much time on unnecessary side-details describing the world I had created. That was important in helping me ground the story and come up with a full, vibrant fantasy world—but a lot of what I wrote needed to be junked in order for the story to be as much fun for readers as it was for me!!! I’m pleased with how I’ve been able to trim it down. It’s still not as fast-paced as most of my books, but then again it was never meant to be. But it doesn’t drag now, or send the readers off on unessential detours. Those details were vital for me back in 2003, but you’ve always got to bear the readers in mind when you’re writing, and write for them, not just to please yourself. I know it can be hard, when you’re working on a book, or just finished one, to accept that you have to chop out large chunks of it. That’s why I like to give myself such long breaks between edits—by setting a finished draft aside for a few months (or years!!!), you can be more objective when you sit down with it again, view it more like a reader will, see what needs to stay and what must go, and be distanced enough from the material to happily set about cutting out the dead wood. It might sound strange, but to guide your story to a point where lots of readers will hopefully feel very attached to it, at certain stages along the way you need to detach yourself from it.

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    Put in another fuller than full day of editing duties on the adult book—I didn’t finish working on it until just after 21.00!!! I always think it’s a good sign when I find myself eagerly doing more work on a book than I need to—if a story can excite me, there’s a fairly good chance it can excite a lot of other people too! So hopefully this a promising sign. One of the things I definitely know is that my editing skills have improved drastically since I last worked on the book 7 or 8 years ago! I’ve been cutting out huge, unnecessary swaths of text, and sharpening up lines in just about every single paragraph. It’s something I’ve spoken about on this blog before—writing consists of two skills. First you have to learn to write more than you need. Then you need to learn how to hone that down into shape. Over time, you’ll probably find that your first drafts start to improve, and that you don’t need to do as much work on them as you once did. Although that isn’t actually all that important. The quality of a first draft doesn’t really matter. It’s what you do with it afterwards that will determine the quality of the finished work. A neat, tidy first draft makes the editing process a bit easier, but it’s not really that much of a hassle if you have to seriously trim it down, as I’m doing in this instance. It’s a hurdle which a lot of young writers fall at—it’s an easy mistake, to get disheartened if your first draft of a story or book doesn’t look as sharp and as punchy as published stories or books which you’re read. But as I often say here, you have to look past that. If you keep working on it, re-writing and editing, it WILL start to fall into shape. Even if it takes 9 or 10 years, as it has in this instance!

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    Finished my latest edit of the first book of the four-book series. This is the fifth draft of the book, as I mentioned yesterday. I didn’t change very much in this draft, or indeed the draft before—but they’re still crucial to the overall impact of the piece. As I’ve often said here, a first draft is just a starting point for a story or novel. Pretty much every writer I know or ever read about goes through at least 5 or 6 drafts before they’re happy with a book. (Yes, there are exceptions, such as Mickey Spillane, but they’re few and far between.) The little changes I was making this time round didn’t make much difference if you were to look at them one at a time—a word added or taken away in a line here, a couple of words shifted around in another line over there. But when you add up all the little alterations, they make a huge difference. A book should be smooth. When you’re reading, you should be able to lose yourself in the story, to get sucked in by it and ride along as if on a roller coaster ride. If lines are jagged or slightly out of kilter, you WILL notice them, even if only subconsciously. The occasionally dud or two won’t disturb you too much, but if you start noticing a lot of loose ends, that will distract you, and you’ll start looking out for them, and the story will lose its grip on you. I’m not talking about out-and-out mistakes—more things like using a certain word or phrase too often, or awkwardly structuring a sentence, or making a sentence longer than it needs to be, and throwing in more words than you need, thus slowing things down a bit, and making things a bit more complicated than they need be, and thus losing your reader—much like this very sentence, in fact!!!


    Did you notice the length of that last sentence? The repetitions? The awkwardness? THAT is what I am talking about!! First drafts are full of lousy lines like that—when you’re first dealing with a story, you should be focused on the big picture, on taking it all the way to the end, not on the neat and even lie of every line. But as you go through later drafts, you begin narrowing your field of vision, judging the merits of each and every line, looking for small ways to improve. And those small tweaks are just as important as the big plot twists and character arcs. A huge step forward for me as a writer was when, having written a handful of first draft books, I sat down and re-wrote and then edited one of those books for the first time. I think it’s the same for writers everywhere. Whether you enjoy editing (as I do) or not, it’s essential, and the sooner you realise and accept that, and start doing it, the sooner you can move forward and begin to learn and advance.


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