Every How To Write book will tell you that once you’ve finished your magnum opus you should put it in a drawer for at least three months before starting to revise it so you can look at it with fresh eyes. It’s excellent advice though I have yet to meet anyone who hast typed ‘The End’ and then not gone promptly back to page 1 to start tinkering with the precious work of art. It’s what I’ve always done myself and yes, you lose a certain amount of distance by revising immediately – that’s why you get others to read it to point out plot holes and dull bits – but you gain in immediacy and freshness.
I’m now in the really weird position of revising something that’s effectively been in a drawer for 13 years as I’ve started editing Something Stupid so I can publish it as an e-book. I wrote it in 1998 and checked the proofs in 1999. When it first came out I must have picked it up and read a few pages, or more, every week, revelling in seeing my own words in print and feeling pretty pleased with myself about it too, but I don’t think I’ve even so much as glanced at it in five years.
One of the things that just leapt out at me was how much my style has changed in 14 years. I’ve got to cut the book down as it’s long for an e-book but I’m beginning to think I won’t have much of a problem. Those adjectives and adverbs! In my own defence I should say that I acquired the adjective habit trying to write for Mills and Boon and it’s a difficult one to shake off. One of the reasons they’re so easy to read (and hard to write) is that every action, every emotion, every view has to be spelt out clearly which means lots of adjectives and adverbs. I thought at the time that I’d largely cured myself, but sadly no. They’re everywhere. I read a story ages ago, I think by O Henry, about a struggling and mediocre writer who was given a magical device to improve his writing. He waved it over his manuscript and every adjective disappeared and he had the most superb piece of literature in front of him. I need one of those.
The book is also peppered with screamers, exclamation marks, which surprises me as I didn’t think I’d ever over-used them. Amazing how you can fool yourself. Anyway now I’ve gone right in the opposite direction. With the current work in progress if I’m stalled and doing a little light revising – also known as not getting on with it – I actually have to insert the odd exclamation mark here and there for emphasis.
There’s also the thorny problem of whether I should update the book or not. Do I put in mobile phones and computerize everything which involves re-writing several scenes or do I simply put a note at the beginning saying that it takes place in 1999?
One thing I’m really enjoying though is being able to take out some of the phrases the copy editor inflicted on the manuscript. Back in 1999 I was much too much in awe of the whole publishing process to say that I do not accept that “emoted” can ever be a synonym for “said” in any circumstances whatsoever. My friends were all too tactful to comment on such excressences (fortunately there weren’t many) which is a great shame as for years I haven’t had the opportunity to deny that “she emoted” is part of my normal writing language.
It isn’t. It was the first edit I made.
The poor adverb. I treally is much maligned. Dare I say I have noticed its return in the last year or so? I certainly seem to read it more and more. As long as there isn’t adverb overload I think it’s fine to use it in writing.
In relation to 1999, it reminds me of Sue Grafton’s books where the heroine has remained in the 1980s even though the author has been writing the series for nearly thirties years. I would be inclined to keep it set in 1999 unless you think mobile phones/the internet would help the plotting.
What type of book is it? If it’s a crime/thriller I will look out for it.
Cutting out all adverbs and adjectives is one of the great writing clichés; just like showing and not telling. If you always showed and never told you’d end up with a book as thick as a brick (like some fantasy offerings in fact). But there are rather too many adverbs in Something Stupid so some have to go.
Thanks for the advice about the updating, it’s rather what I think too.
It’s romantic comedy, the current WIP is sort of crime, can’t say more than that, but don’t know when I’ll get that finished.
The Hyperteller said:
‘I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t typed ‘The End’ and gone promptly back to page 1 to start tinkering with the precious work of art’ – how true. I recently finished writing a script, and had planned to leave it for a couple of weeks before going back to it. I lasted a day, and that was probably only because I was somewhere that I couldn’t actually work on it. In my defence, somebody wanted to see it. I still have yet to revisit last year’s NaNoWriMo, although I did go back and read it through. The hardest thing was trying not to make changes – I didn’t want to get into that editing frame of mind. Perhaps I should dig it out now that it’s been several months… Thanks for reminding me 🙂
Did you manage to do the full 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo? I’m impressed.
Claire 'Word by Word' said:
I love the magic of meeting one’s former self through the pages of a story put on the shelf or in a drawer. It’s like an affirmation of continuous reading, writing and living and shows us how important it is to continue and keep up those activities because we are forever improving/changing our view of things.
I know that feeling too of being happy with what I have written and then reading it again some time later and thinking “you were happy with that?” but also not being too hard on myself either, because it’s all part of the learning process, but I do love to go back and see evidence of how I really have changed in terms of my written expression.
Does one ever get to the point where style becomes constant or do we continue to forever?
Claire 'Word by Word' said:
Oops – Correction :
Does one ever get to the point where style becomes constant or do we continue to evolve forever?
I think we keeping on changing continually don’t you? I’m still enjoying what I wrote, even if I wouldn’t necessarily write it today and I think it could do with some tightening up.
I am actually in awe of all who set to writing a book. It sits in the corner of my mind – chipping away at me saying ‘get started – get started’ but I have a great fear of hating what I do start, or being mortally embarrassed about what I have written. To pick up what you have written ten years earlier and question – ‘how could I have written that,’ is exactly what hinders many potential writers.
Very interesting to hear that you reduce length for ebooks – I say why? I can’t bear coming the end of a good book – of course I want to find out what happens in the end, but it’s like loosing a friend when it ends, and takes more than a good few moments to accept and feel comfortable with a new one i
I have to admit I’ve never read an e-book as I don’t have anything to read one on. The general consensus is around 80,000 words is best for e-books, frankly I’m not sure why, so as my books are all about 110,000 words I’m trying to cut them down a bit but I’m not going to beat myself about the head if I don’t reach the magic 80,000.
I come from a writing family so perhaps getting started was easier for me but don’t worry about what other people might think or writing what you think you should, write what you’d like to read yourself. I’m not embarrassed so much as surprised to see how much my style has changed and I have to admit I’m also rather enjoying the chance to go back and tinker with something I had so much fun writing.
If I ever get to ‘The End’ I doubt if I will ever find the stamina to edit it so I am full of admiration. I’ve had a Kindle for several months and am hooked – although I still like ‘real’ books, too. Keep us abreast of your ebook plans.
I don’t have any desire for a Kindle at the moment, I appreciate the practicality – apart from not being able to read them in the bath which is one of my favourite places – but they don’t have the soul of ‘real’ books. I enjoy getting emails but it’s nothing like getting a letter.
Oh, how I can relate to you! It’s astonishing how our writing style changes. I’m frankly embarrassed by the previously-published book I’m currently updating for Kindle at the moment. It is SO full of adjectives and adverbs, qualifiers and conjunctions. It almost looks as if they were included to bump up the word count. 😉
I LOVE my Kindle. Can’t really find any downside to it. If the content is good, I don’t notice the media, except that I can read comfortably with one hand instead of two. 🙂
I have to keep on reminding myself I’m not re-writing the book, just editing it.
I know I’ll get a Kindle eventually, the difficulty with downloading the books if you’ve got a French IP address tees me off and it’s very light minded of me to say so but they aren’t very pretty are they? Also you can’t read them in the bath. But I know they’re very good as you get older. I wish my mother had learnt how to use one, she was a voracious reader but practically had to give it up due to her eyesight