"I wrote WHAT?!" - Tales from the editing trenches and other things.
Well, we're into the wide world of the first edit of the first draft. A place where magic can happen at any moment, fantastic new ideas can be born of nothing, or you can find yourself curled up on the couch wishing you'd forgotten how to read. I'll be the first to admit it - EDITING SUCKS.
I'll also be the first to admit that I've actually been looking forward to the edit for this novel. It's odd, because I've never been a fan of the edit. When I write, the things that flow from my brain to the page seem perfect. I get lost in the story, the scene plays out in front of me, and at the end I'm sitting there proud at what I've done. The edit is the chance to go back and relive that moment, except it's never quite the same. I come to realize that the thing I was trying to translate to the page has completely missed the mark. I find that the detail that I made up on the spot completely contradicts the details I'd made up in much the same fashion three chapters ago. Both of those end up being different than the one four chapters down the road. Characters pick up a unique phrase that makes appearance after appearance later on, but is never said once throughout the first five chapters. Names change, places morph and shift, side stories emerge from nothing, with no lead up.
The first draft is a mess. Not just the current one I'm working on, but always.
That's the process.
When I tell people that I write, or they find out about it in some way, a few of them have said, "I write also! I've been working on this book for years!" I love that. I encourage everyone to follow their crafty passions to the fullest. It's been a game changer for me, if only as a way for me to express myself and get out of my own head for a while. Inevitably, though, those people who have been working on that book for years are only halfway through it. They've rewritten the first five chapters countless times, they've come up with new and exciting ideas that change the ending they'd settled on, and are now redoing the outline for a 7th iteration. My advice always stays the same, and I've said it multiple times here already. Just finish it. Get it done. Complete a draft. I know you're looking for perfection - we all are - but you'll never have the chance if you don't get the bad version out first.
As a pantser, writing with no plan in sight, I assume that my editing process is more involved than some. I imagine that planners, with their outlines and their character biographies, have it a bit easier. They don't have to worry about every detail, they know the details already. They don't have to worry about the way that characters name changed halfway through the book, they'd settled on one before they even began. That's awesome. For me though, knowing those things before I'm in the thick of it spoils the surprise. Half of the joy I get from writing is the discovery as the story unfolds. Which leads to major editing needs in the future.
For this book, I even tried to make it easy on myself. I scribbled notes in a pad next to the computer as I wrote, jotting names and dates and descriptions so I'd have them for reference later. I did math to figure out timelines. I noted major points that came up so I could reference them further down the line. By the second half of the book, I knew what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how it all fit together.
But the first half...hooboy. It's held together by bits of twine.
I'm about halfway through the first read and edit of the book, and there's a lot to work on. I knew there was one major thing I was going to need to change before I started. The antagonists motivation didn't become clear to me until probably the final fourth of the story, so the introduction and early chapters with him need major work to tie it all together. That's fine, it was expected, and I'm actually excited for it. What wasn't expected was the amount that I'd learned about the other characters as I was writing. Re-reading the first chapters of the story, I had NO idea who the main character was. The side characters are introduced as caricatures of their final forms, barely recognizable as they fumble around the scene for the single purpose I created them for. Locations don't match what my head had settled on by the finale. Characters that I thought would play prominently in the story fizzle out to nothing as time goes on. And for the first time in my writing journey, I've read a few chapters and left the note "Add more here, spend more time with the characters thoughts, I want to know more." Generally, I'm a straightforward, to the point, tell what needs told and be done with it type writer, but for this story, it needs the depth of character, and I'm excited to show it.
Right now, my goal is to be done with the edit and first rewrites by the end of July. If I can get that accomplished, I can have the novel out to a beta reader or two by August, and have feedback on it by September in hopes of submitting it out to my small list of hopeful agents. If that goes well, they can take it from there. If it goes poorly, I can make the decision to either continue the query process, or start ironing out the cover and final edits for the self-pub. I think I'll still be able to make a March release next year if I have to. The current hope, though, is that the agent process works out favorably.
Either way it happens, I'm excited for this story, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.