I Stumbled Upon The Perfect Formula For Editing My Novel and It Will Almost Certainly Not Be What You Expect.

If I ever get published and he is remotely interested and I am somehow in possession of the ability to find out where he lives, I will mail a copy of my novel to Tom Hanks.

Last week ago I posted about finishing my novel in six weeks  , a time frame that seems even to me, to be remarkably quick. As I was soon to learn, the difficult part was not the writing of the first draft and it is had been the editing process which had threatened to derail my attempts.

Because I had written all but the first two chapters of my novel in a notebook, I knew from the start that editing would be twice the task. I would need to type up that which I had written out and this became the first stumbling boulder.

Do I type up what I have written without editing a single word or do I consciously edit as I go though the pages?

Both struck me as overwhelming. To simply copy what I had written would mean a lot of time and effort going into something that I knew I would have to change in parts. Editing as I went along made me feel as if the story would be dislocated in sections, as if I wouldn’t fully be able to get a grasp on the whole novel, together, on my computer.

Faced with this decision I decided to do nothing.

Taking the mess that was the first draft – quite literally because it was spread across a notebook, some loose pages and google drive documents- and having the expectations that I had, I couldn’t begin to understand how to start to order what I had written.

Every couple of days the guilt of not working on it, especially when I had worked tirelessly every day for six weeks, set in and I found myself at my desk attempting yet another timeline of events to try and understand what I had to do to bring it together. Perhaps I should have just gone ahead and typed out exactly what I had written up but anyone who has been faced with possible any moderate to difficult undertaking knows: if you don’t feel it’s worth your time, it won’t happen.

I had four false starts where nothing that I typed was right. The reason I hadn’t used the computer for the first draft was to take away from myself the ease of change and I had been correct in assuming that once typing I would let nothing sit unless it looked and felt completely perfect. I would start a new document and type up the first couple of paragraphs again and again, comparing them with what had gone before, agonising over word choice and sentence length and losing sight of the fact that writing anything at all and leaving it alone would have gotten me over the initial hurdle of beginning and into a kind of writing flow.

Three days ago I decided that I had had enough and that the more I raged against myself to produce something perfect the less likely I was going to be in producing anything. Besides that, I realised that nobody, not even myself, knows what a ‘perfect’ version of my story looks like. The agonising had to stop considering I was placing myself pressure to perform against standards that I couldn’t have explained logically for myself (I am unbelievably talented at setting unrealistic expectations for myself).

I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when I was sixteen and should have been studying maths and it was this book that I found myself looking at three days ago. I knew the story, of course, but I wanted something to read that I didn’t have to focus on or, to be honest, even think about having to rewrite.

It was probably the act of reading something so compelling without the accompanying agony of asking myself how it compared to my own novel that freed me up. Writing is such a headache at times that it felt wonderful to have a large book already written, story already told, in my hands. I felt myself becoming less aggrieved by novels in general. There was the very real enjoyment of looking at Brown’s novel and realising that novels come in completed forms.

I still didn’t touch my work though, feeling as if I had only just kind of started to forgive all novels for the stress mine had been putting me through.

While making tea the other morning I had the lines from Talking Heads Once in A Lifetime in my head. I don’t especially like this song and I can’t tell you when the last time I had listened to it was. Music had taken a back seat in the whole writing process. I remembered that my mum used to play a cassette tape of Talking Heads in her car when I was younger and while I drank the tea I listened to a couple of their songs, all the while experiencing that horrible sensation of nostalgia that forms in the pit of your stomach. I hate being older.

Later that evening as Talking Heads played in the background I decided to have a look at the first couple of pages of my novel again. In my original post on finishing my novel I launched an attack on how music is the enemy, (blah, blah, blah) but like most things I say I was forced to eat my words when, as the music played, I managed two pages without stopping to deploy the full force of my critical muscle. I took it as a sign and looped the music on repeat and continued.

I had always laughed when I read about the kind of superstitions that writers are famed for adhering to but for the last two days I have not typed a word without listening to Talking Heads at least once during the process and I have kept The Da Vinci Code on the couch behind me occasionally tapping it with my foot. Last night I wrote for four hours and as you can see from the length of this post compared to the others something has been unblocked.

I suppose what tickles me about this is that while thinking about what on earth had led the lines of Once in A Lifetime to run through my head, I realised that one place I had heard them years ago was in a film trailer. I couldn’t remember the name but I knew enough of what I thought the story was to find it on YouTube.

Imagine my face when I watched the trailer again and saw that the lead actor was none other than Tom Hanks. I really did laugh at the thought that reading The Da Vinci Code has led my mind to create it’s own unconscious map linking up the adaptation of Brown’s novel with the music I had thought had flitted through my mind at random. Tom Hanks links the two.

The idea that life had played me made me smile and I made a mental note to remind myself that when it comes to compelling storylines and revealing surprising connections, I will always play second fiddle to life.


If you are editing a novel how do you go about it? Do you have any superstitions or I am playing into a stereotype here that I should abandon with immediate effect?!






3 thoughts on “I Stumbled Upon The Perfect Formula For Editing My Novel and It Will Almost Certainly Not Be What You Expect.

  1. I’ve been working on a story of my own too, and this exactly the kind of problem I face frequently

    Usually, when I’m editing my novel, I think about what could have been scenario in the story, as in… Just thinking what could make it better by drawing inspirations from other stories. I use tvtropes.org for some assistance. And musics

    And I agree with you, no story can ever be completely perfect, but we still can make it better, enjoyable or reasonable

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Before I edit, I smear ash on my face, draw infinity symbols on my arms, stand with arms extended while facing south- south west and then do the boogie woogie 🙂

    Nah, I don’t really have any superstitions or rituals for editing, but I do tend to edit more when I’m feeling really low. It helps me focus I guess, and makes me more critical.

    I don’t think you should worry about your work being perfect. Perhaps just get it as close to ‘perfect’ as you can in the time frame you’ve allowed yourself. It’s easy for a novel to get stuck in editing hell for years.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, I am writing. I type up all my handwritten notes exactly as they are, even if I know I am repeating myself in places, and then go back and work it into shape. Sometimes I type notes directly and that of course saves time. As long as you are doing something, be it simple typing up, moving bits around, or beautifully crafting sentences infused with emotion, you are doing something. Just keep writing….

    Liked by 2 people

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