Striking the Balance – Editing as Art rather than Science

Here’s a general update before I get on to my latest revelation about editing:

Some writers I know like to focus on one project at a time, but I find it beneficial to have a few irons in the fire. It means you have a way to refresh your creativity if you hit a mental cul-de-sac on your main project. A short break from something big to write a short story or flash fiction or blog post is often all you need to feel the fire again. It also means that you’re keeping your connections/networks/online presence fresh, which is not only good for expanding your audience but can be a great boost for motivation and commitment. There’s nothing quite like people reading and enjoying your writing on a regular basis to give you the confidence to motor on with the novel draft, for example. 

So I have been keeping my hand in online over the last few months whilst tackling more adventurous projects and it has been paying off. Two of my short stories are available in Dagda Publishing’s dystopian SciFi collections Tuned to a Dead Channel and All Hail the New Flesh. I can now also announce that my short story Wasteland, a horror short I produced around Halloween last year, will be featured in The Siren’s Call Ezine in the near future! If you are a fan of writing or reading horror, check them out. They currently have a flash fiction competition running and are always looking for submissions and their ezine is available through their website.

(A big thank you to the wonderful Helena Hann Basquait for pointing me in the direction of The Siren’s Call! And if you haven’t heard of Helena, where have you been? If you’re a fan of creative non-fiction with humour and edge, check her out. Her Memoirs are now available for your reading pleasure.)

I have also recorded my very first interview, which is now available to stream online: the great Anneque Malchien, indie author, reviewer and blogger, invited me to answer a few questions and, bless her, opened the my flood gates on the subjects of UK weather, science fiction and gendering your characters. Check out her blog post here for a link to the interview and to hear my voice! It is the first time I’ve heard my voice too, it was certainly interesting!

Simmering away in the background to all this activity is The Big Stuff. This, at the moment, is the editing of Zero, my debut science fiction novel that is due for release August 2014. (For DAgda Publishing’s official publication notice, click here. You can also sign up to the publisher’s newletter on their website . Not only will you get updates about my book but Dagda are brimming with poetry and short fiction releases, as well as novels, and always hungry for submissions. Whether you’re a reader, writer, or both it’s worth it).

Getting this far has made me realise many things, but one above all is that editing is a funny old game. I have read through my draft of Zero more times than I care to think about and yet I am still finding errors: continuity errors, redundancy, even typos. You will need to edit more than you think. And it can’t be all done at once, either. After a while you stop seeing the text. So be patient, but be prepared: there’s a lot to do.

But at the same time, I’ve realised you do have to be careful when pruning. You could edit forever, whittle the language away like the sea at rocks until you grind the narrative down to sand. But you still want a story with stones left at the end of it. Of course, if you want bald, simple, minimalist then go for it. Whittle away. But not every narrative suits this.

The main challenge so far with editing Zero has been finding the balance between what the story can live without and that which should stay, not necessarily for plot or exposition, but for atmosphere,character or theme. I’m so tempted to cut and cut and cut so that there is just the bare minimum left so the reader can fill in the gaps. I do like my fiction interactive. But it still needs some substance. I still want my stamp on it…I still want it to have a feel and not just a prescriptive series of events.

I know that you do have to be prepared to make tough decisions for the greater good (is this sentence/chapter/character really necessary/contributary/consistent?) but I’ve also learned to not be afraid to enjoy the writing and know what should stay because it feels right, not just because it’s vital to the plot.

Now, to keep it up for 140,000 words!

Stay tuned for continued musings on my progress with Zero and, of course, more fiction and book reviews and general wafflage 🙂 Still a long way to go! But we’re enjoying the trip 😀

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7 Responses to Striking the Balance – Editing as Art rather than Science

  1. Keep fighting the good fight Jex! Editing is not for the fainthearted. 🙂

  2. M. C. Dulac says:

    Woohoo! Two editing tips I heard are: getting someone to read it aloud while you review the text, and read the story backwards (which helps you focus on the words).

  3. Great to hear the hard yards are being put in. Can’t wait for the final result =)

  4. Gwen Stephens says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here! It’s possible to over-edit, as I’ve been guilty of doing, to the point where you lose the essence of your original story (I have a post coming up on this topic, in fact). I also agree that having several irons in the fire is key. As you stated so succinctly above, you always have something to work on, no excuses!

  5. Reblogged this on The Path – J. S. Collyer's Writing Blog and commented:

    Today’s Throwback Thursday post was great fun to revisit. It was when I was editing my first novel Zero, and now that I’m on to editing the sequel, Haven, it’s good to refresh these ideas and remind myself of why I do things the way I do!

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