Where to begin with a novel edit?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately. Over a year ago I finished the first draft of a novel. It was an exciting moment, and I can still recall how I typed the final sentence with a sense of bewilderment. I’d done it. I’d written a novel. But even in that moment I knew it was just the beginning.

Like many guides recommend, I let the work sit for a bit. A couple of months later I read it through on a warm spring day. There were some typos and clunky bits and repetition but overall I was rather chuffed with my efforts. It could be improved without a doubt, but I felt that it held together well.

I’m not sure what happened next. Other projects and life got in the way. And the thought of making a start (where and how??) with wrangling over 95,000 words was overwhelming, let alone any consideration of what I would do with it once it was edited. How many first novels live in drawers or backed up in a cloud?

But one of my writing friends kept asking me about The Novel. Where was it up to? How was the rework going? Finally the message got through. It’s time to rework the novel.

Have you ever googled novel editing? There is a vast amount of information and resources, tips and techniques out there to guide the novel novelist. But I soon realised that, similar to the writing process itself, there is no single way to complete the novel edit. Established authors vouch that there are variations to most of the novels that they have edited. Some authors have editorial teams behind them but when starting out it is just you and the page. The temptation is strong to spend considerable time researching various approaches but after a brief foray this began to feel like procrastination.

I have to keep it relatively simple. I have referred back to a post by Australian author Allison Tait that I kept in readiness for such a moment. And I also found a frank clip on editing by Jenna Moreci that aligned with my goal of a simple yet thorough approach.

The reality is that there are no shortcuts. I will need to keep moving through the stages of editing until the novel is in the best shape it can be. And rather than being overwhelmed, it is best to keep it in manageable steps.

How do you approach big creative tasks?

[Photo: mist in the Hartley Valley]

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Excuse Me While I Procrastinate

It’s funny how sometimes the right thing comes along at the right time. I was looking at a video on cloud-watching, which sounds like an ideal way to procrastinate instead of doing something useful, but as I was making some notes the next video in line started to play. It was a TED talk about procrastination.

Tim Urban provides a humorous overview of how procrastination works. He tells a familiar story of having a major thesis due, and how logically the work involved would be staggered in a reasonable and achievable manner up until the due date. This was fine in theory until distractions and instantly gratifying behaviour got in the way.

Urban reveals how procrastination has the potential to impact all of our lives. There is an ongoing internal battle for many people between the rational decision-maker, the instant gratification monkey with lots of easy and fun ideas, and the panic monster. The panic monster comes into play when there is a deadline and the likelihood of a consequence for not completing an agreed task, such as public humiliation.

And here is the thing. Deadlines contain procrastination. They don’t necessarily block it, but they limit the extent of procrastination, which in some forms of creativity or tasks, can be endless if there is no timeframe around it.

I know that deadlines motivate me. So, after having a laugh at the talk, I gave it a bit of thought. Somehow I always deliver on deadlines that matter, so I thought that I would set some writing deadlines of my own. I had a think about the projects that I’ve been working on, bits and pieces that just seem to mosey along when I don’t have a specific timeframe to work on. And I set myself some deadlines.

Not the vague, just in my head kind of deadline. Deadlines written on the whiteboard in my study, ready to remind me when I’m having a dawdling kind of day when my mind would prefer to veer between clearing out emails or sorting something – anything – into some sort of order. Isn’t it time that cupboard in the kitchen that drives me nuts is sorted? No. Instead I look at the wall, look at what I had planned to work through for the week or month, and get on with it.

Do you suffer from procrastinationitis? And if so, how do you trick yourself to get things done?

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[Photo: yarn bomb message spotted at Lane Cove]

A Creative Check-In

Last week I posted a creative checklist which encouraged building a sustainable writing practice that I had come across in the Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers by Judy Reeves. This week, I’m going to check-in and see how I’m travelling.

  1. Identify yourself as a writer. This is something that I’m getting better at, and blogging has helped more than I would have thought in regards to my writing identity. I now include ‘writer’ as part of my persona, rather than keeping it tucked away as something private. 
  2. Give yourself affirmations claiming yourself as a writerOn the filing cabinet next to my desk there is an affirmation picked out in magnets: You Are A Writer. I could do a bit more of this to keep it front of mind.
  3. I have a writing space, a sacred place. This one is a big tick. I have a small study with an old wooden desk where I do my best creative work. I can, and do, write where I can, and at home I’ll often write at the kitchen table or somewhere in the sunshine, but turning up at my desk means I’m writing seriously.
  4. I have the tools, materials and support to write. Another tick. I have a stash of stationery as well as technology at hand. I subscribe to literary journals and belong to the writers’ centre in my state. I also listen to podcasts about writing when I’m on the move.
  5. I have writing friends to write and talk with. This is also true. And they write across different genres and formats which makes for some interesting conversations and approaches to writing.
  6. I do writerly things. Yes, I do. I belong to a writing group, I go to readings and workshops when I can. I like reading writers who write about writing.
  7. I write to writers whose work has impacted me and thank them. Not so much. But I like the idea of it and social media has made it easier to do this than ever before. I’ll add it to my to-do list.
  8. I make time for my writing on a regular basis. Yes, I do.
  9. When I can’t keep my writing date, I acknowledge why and reschedule. Usually, yes.
  10. When I’m consistently breaking writing appointments, I review why and make necessary changes. This usually falls into the category of life getting in the way. I tend to pause to prioritise what I do have time for, and ensure that there is a bit of writing time carved out. I am happier when I write, so why wouldn’t I?
  11. I put my writing time high up on my priorities list. See above. I’m much nicer when I’m happy.
  12. I set aside enough time to build consistency. I think so. Part of me thinks I could put more time aside but I have to be realistic as thinking that I can spend X hours every day isn’t realistic at this point of my life.
  13. I also create special times for writing. I have been trying this out with larger pockets of time for bigger writing projects and it definitely helps.
  14. I write. This one seems kind of obvious but a big learning in the past year in particular has been around getting something down as you can edit, tweak and improve what you’ve written, but if you don’t actually write there is nothing to work with.
  15. When I’m stuck, I find out what’s holding me back. This is another work in progress. It can take me a while to realise I’m circling a problem but I’m getting better at picking up on procrastination and addressing the cause so it doesn’t become an insurmountable obstacle.

How often do you check in with yourself, creatively speaking?

[Photo: Cowra Japanese Gardens]