editing

Your manuscript, the director’s cut: editing and second draft blues

image copyright savagechickens.com

Possibly the hardest piece of editorial advice to accept is the suggestion that bits of your writing should be cut. When you’ve slavishly toiled over every word in your first draft, slashing them from your pages again can be sort of heartbreaking. You love ALL THE DETAILS you’ve created for your characters, and you want everyone else to love them too! The layout of the bathrooms in your space station on Zargon Four is REALLY COOL and NEEDS the eighteen pages of description that you have devoted to them!

One of the trickiest lessons to learn as a writer is to trust in your own words. Trust that you’ll probably need to write far more in your first draft, while you’re discovering your characters and your world, than will ever need to make it onto your final pages. Trust that sometimes a paragraph may not be necessary when a sentence or two will convey the same sentiment. And trust that your readers will be able to make the leaps you want them to make, without every infinitesimal detail sketched out for them.

Here is a little example from my novel, Life in Outer Space. No real spoilers here – this is the opening of a chapter early in the book, which gives a bit of background on one of the main character’s best friends. The first version is the paragraph as it was written in the original draft. The second version is the same section of text as it appears in the final book.

Original manuscript:

Adrian and I met in kindergarten when we were four. At least, that’s what Mum tells me. It’s not like I can remember the actual day he walked into my life. I don’t remember a significant incident, a montage of conversations in the sandpit that would change our lives forever or anything like that. Fact is, I just can’t remember a time when Adrian wasn’t around. The earliest Adrian-memories that have stuck are of him falling down a lot. Not being shoved over by arse-faced bullies — that would come later. I remember Adrian just walking over flat ground and then no longer being upright. His mum always says that he took longer than everyone else to learn to coordinate his arms and legs, but I have my own theory. Adrian Radley always had more stuff going on inside his head than the synapses of his brain could cope with. When we were kids, this meant that he’d be thinking about his play lunch, and the park, and about the episode of Dragonball-Z he’d watched that morning, and about fifty billion things he wanted to say to me all at the one time. Now it means the parts of Adrian’s brain that are thinking and the parts that are controlling his mouth are usually having different conversations. Sometimes in different conference rooms. Often, in different countries. If Mike is the brother I never had, then Adrian is the Chernobyl-born cousin who came for a visit and never left. I guess some people enter your orbit and get stuck in your gravity, and there’s nothing either of you can do about it.

Final draft:

Adrian and I met in kinder when we were four. At least, that’s what Mum tells me. It’s not like I can remember the actual day he walked into my life. I don’t remember a montage of conversations in the sandpit that would change our lives forever or anything like that. I just can’t remember a time when Adrian wasn’t around.
If Mike is the brother I never had, then Adrian Radley is the possibly inbreed cousin who came for a visit and never left. I guess some people enter your orbit and get stuck, and there’s nothing either of you can do about it.

 

[For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog – you can read the rest of this post here]

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The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog website at the Centre for Youth Literature. Check it out here. I’ll be blogging about writing,  editing, comic books, Wonder Woman, dog wrangling, chocolate eating – and loads of other stuff.

For the month of June, I, along with my team of super-editors, will also be putting the final touches on my new book. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl will be out in September, which I still have trouble believing. It feels like only yesterday that these characters were but a few excited notes on a post-it; a year-and-a-bit later, and they are almost ready to make their way out into the world. And as always, I am TOTALLY freaked by the thought. Freaked, and excited. Stay tuned for more info coming soon…

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

‘Is the author’s name supposed to be spelt like that…?’

Working in a publishing house, there’s a particular sort of geek-fest that occurs with the arrival of the first copies of a book. Shipped straight from the printer, it’s the very first time that anyone gets to see a project – that’s typically been underway for over a year – as something other than flat sheets or a file on a screen. It’s a little hard to describe just how exciting cracking open that first box of books is. Finally being able to hold the finished, physical object in your hand; blurring your eyes a little over the cover, just in case you’ve spelt the authors name wrong (hasn’t happened yet, but there is always the sick-making fear). Typically, a bunch of people will be ooh-ing and ah-ing over it, while the editor peers through splayed fingers shrieking ‘I can’t look!’

So my novel is not quite at that stage yet. But a mini geek-fest was had nonetheless, as an advanced bound proof copy of Life in Outer Space has made its way to my house (bonus points to the postie who managed to throw it over my locked fence and land a direct hit on my doorstep, not in my trees or my next-door-neighbour’s yard, as periodically happens).

It has a cover, and a spine. It has my name on it (spelling a-ok). It’s going out into the world, to the hands of the sort of people who receive advanced proof copies – if you’re one of them, hello, welcome, would love to hear from you.

Next step: final proof read, then to press for real.
Michael approves.

Final drafts and ‘Star Wars’ fishbowls

It’s done! The final draft of my novel has been dispatched to the expert hands of my editor, and I have succumbed to my standard pattern of a couple of mental high-fives and a brief happy dance, followed by sleepless nights of crushing insecurity. I know that that the manuscript is in the best shape it could possibly be; but at this stage, I am pretty sure I could recite the entire 70-odd thousand words by heart, and it’s a little difficult to see them with anything approaching fresh eyes. But, it is one step closer to becoming a real book, and I will be keeping my fingers and toes and other crossable bits crossed that the thumbs-up from my editor will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, the things I’m most excited about are:

  • Getting designed first pages
  • Being able to officially announce the title
  • Seeing the cover
  • Cleaning my desk

Over the last year my desk has become a bit of a haven for character-related props and other novel-esque ephemera. My protagonist has a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll? I, too, must own a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll! I know that this was partly because a hasty trip to the shops was my way of assuaging writers block – after all, tracking down a DVD of a movie that the character watches or a book that he reads was sort of related to the writing – but suffice to say, my credit card and Minotaur have become good friends over the past year.

Yes, that is a fishbowl of Star Wars plushes. I doubt there was a Woolies in Melbourne left un-plundered in my quest for the complete set. And believe it or not, I wasn’t a horror movie fan before I started writing this book. Except for The Evil Dead. The Evil Dead was always awesome…

Welcome!

So this is, officially, my very first blog post on my very first blog/website/interwebs page thingy. Huzzah! It’s a slightly odd thing to be writing because at this point no one is reading anyway, but nevertheless, I shall shout out into the void – welcome to my little corner of the web. 

Today, I am polishing what is hopefully the final draft of my first young adult novel, an as yet untitled romantic comedy that will be published in March 2013 by the wonderful folks at Hardie Grant Egmont. As a writer and book editor, I should probably be able to produce a searingly brilliant and insightful post about the editorial process; but really, after working on this novel solidly for over a year now, and with my final draft due tomorrow, the ‘process’ has come down to this: drinking copious amounts of coffee, and desperately thumbing through my thesaurus for synonyms for the word ‘scrambled’.

And procrastination. Oh, the procrastination. My word document shall be opened, and stared at, and closed again with nary a comma altered. The font on my blog will be changed, and changed again. Episodes of Game of Thrones will be watched. My house will be the cleanest it has been since the day before my last draft was due. 

Hopefully, searingly brilliant writerly insights might be possible in the future. But for now – I really just need another cup of coffee…