Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Revising and Self-editing

You will never write a piece, much less a book, and have it perfect first time. The best advice is to write your piece, whatever it is, and then put it away for some time before you look at it again. That’s because, having written it, you’re far too close to it to be able to see it clearly. You know what you wanted to say and how you wanted to say it, so when you read it back you read what you meant to write.

This applies to short pieces like blog posts or flash fiction, just as much as longer pieces, but especially when it comes to a book. Hopefully you wrote to some sort of plan, even if you worked it out in your head as you went along. Hopefully you have some sort of notes about the characters, so you don’t give the hero blond hair at the beginning and dark hair later, or change his name or place of birth. Even so, in the flush of creativity, these things can get confused.

Ernest Hemmingway

Ernest Hemmingway

So then you have to allow yourself to get some perspective, some distance, so that when you come back to it you can look at it honestly. ‘Take off your creativity hat and put on your editing hat,’ is how some experts put it. Ernest Hemmingway said ‘Every first draft is sh*t.’ Especially in the early days, that should make you feel better, because it’s true of everyone.

As you develop as a writer you will find less rubbish, but there will always be rubbish. As a new writer, I found that my first novel, although I was glowing with excitement when I wrote it (and when I finished each revision), still had a lot of rubbish, until a professional editor got hold of it. But it had potential – if I didn’t believe that, I might as well have throw it away and not wasted any more time on it.

Jasper Fforde

    Jasper Fforde

The important thing is not to despair. Jasper Fforde says, ‘Spotting what’s wrong should be a celebration because you’re learning.’ If you can’t see any problems, THEN you should worry. But if you can, then it means you’ve moved on since you wrote it.

My first draft of Flight of the Kestrel: Intruders was all plot, with cardboard characters. I developed the characters a bit, and then realised there were no subplots to add depth to the story. I worked out some subplots, and then realised there was very little conflict – I had eleven men on a space ship who all got on together. Then they became overcrowded and no one minded. In this way I learned the basics of crafting a novel.

But there are details to learn too: writing dialogue, handling suspense, description, show don’t tell, and so on. I can recommend some very good books:
Writing the Heart of your Story:The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel by C S Lakin – find out about it here.
Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Techniques to Supercharge Your Writing by C S Lakin – find out about it an other great books on the resources page here.
EDITING the RedPen Way: 10 Steps to Successful Self-editing by Anne Rainbow – available free here.
I have recently read all three of these and made notes to refer to as I begin revising the sequel to Intruders, which will be called Secrets.

Belinda Bauer

           Belinda Bauer

Through it all I take comfort from another quote, from Belinda Bauer: ‘You may never be a good writer but you can’t get worse.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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