Saturday, February 02, 2008

Findaboo - The Joys of Editing & A Book With Biddy

This weekend at The Pink Heart Society our intrepid columnist Annie West tackles the unsexy subject of editing and how it can help you Findaboo (finish the damn book). And don't forget to read all the way to the end for the latest Book With Biddy Blog to see how our aspiring author is getting along!

When people think of writing a story some picture themselves jotting down inspired prose straight onto gorgeous, parchment quality paper (writers and stationery freaks are often synonymous). Others see themselves typing rapidly at their computer, finishing their next chapter easily in time for a social cup of coffee with friends. Few of us think about the process of rewriting, tweaking, revising, reviewing, altering, reworking, know, that E word. Editing.
As an unpublished author my focus was getting the words on the page, the book finished and sent to a publisher who would naturally adore my plot, characters and prose and offer to publish instantly. (Dream on, Annie).

Now my focus is still on getting the words on the page, but I know that’s only the beginning.
I’m convinced there were three major factors that contributed to my first book being accepted for Harlequin Mills and Boon: targeting the right line (at last), luck (getting the right story to the right editor at the right time) and editing. (You’re wishing I’d made it easy and said ‘eating chocolate’, aren’t you?).

That manuscript was different in a number of ways from the ones that had gone before. One difference was that I’d never worked harder at getting the story as good as I could. Not just the individual words but also the overall plot, the characters, their vivid points of view and their emotions. I wrote, revised, reconsidered and polished till it was as good as I could get it. In the past I’d had the lowering experience of picking up the partial that had been rejected and noticing after a page or two ways that it could be tighter, better, more interesting for the reader. I’d put in months of work but I’d let myself down at the end by not editing properly. I’d been so pleased to have finished the story, so wrapped up in the joy of the book I’d created that I hadn’t focused enough on polishing it.

Since then I’ve learned to accept the fact that those glorious words I put down may possibly need alteration (even major alteration) before they’re sent to an editor. Also I learned to acknowledge and give myself the freedom not to get so focused on producing perfection that it stops me from writing. I can always come back and make it better later. A lot of the time it’s only later that I see what needs to be fixed.

I know some writers work by getting a paragraph, scene or chapter perfect, returning and tinkering and improving before allowing themselves to move on. It works beautifully for them and they manage to do that and still move forward with the story. If that approach works for you – marvellous. It means that when you reach the end of the story all the work is done. Maybe because I’m more pantster than plotter (at least at the beginning of a story), that doesn’t work for me.

Note though, that I’ve also met an aspiring author who was so obsessed with the search for perfection that she never finished a story. That search has probably driven some fantastic writers crazy. Ensure your editing of a scene doesn’t become a reason not to move on and finish the story. The lesson is to learn the way that works best for you and be ruthless in pursuing it. Above all, remember that you can always (and will probably be required to) fix a page of text but that you can’t do much with a blank page.

Remember too, that time is on your side when it comes to editing. Most people are better able to see the flaws in their story, and the ways to improve it, after they’ve had some time away from the scene. Problems jump out at you after you’ve had a break from the story for a while. Other people (editors or critique partners) will also pick up issues you’ve missed, which will allow you to improve the story in ways you may not have considered.

Everyone has their own approach to editing. My process is that whenever I sit to write I read the beginning of the current scene or the one before to get myself into the story. That can take time but it’s invaluable for recapturing the mood and sense of where the story is heading. It’s also a chance to fix glaring problems like over use of certain words, to tighten the pace or jot down other issues that may need more thought. Then, when I have the whole story I print it out and read it through. Sometimes this confirms a suspicion I had that something wasn’t quite right. Only after I’ve done a thorough edit (or even several) do I sent it to anyone else. I’m lucky to have a critique partner who has an eagle eye for pacing and for unnecessary words. I find her input invaluable but many writers get by beautifully on their own. You can see here some of the editing that goes into producing one of my books.

Editing is a necessary part of writing. I suspect that quite a few aspiring authors who receive form rejections could have spent longer sitting back considering how their story might be improved before sending it off. It’s such a temptation to submit it straight away.

How do you edit? Do you put down a draft and only allow yourself to look at what you’ve written when you’ve finished? Do you perfect each scene before you move on? Has your approach to editing changed? Have you learned any tricks that have helped make your editing easier? I’d love to hear, I’m always looking for tips to make my writing better.

I’ll give away a copy of my current release, The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife to one of the people who takes the time to contribute to this discussion.

Annie is currently celebrating the release of her Harlequin Mills and Boon novel ‘The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife’. It’s on shelves right now in Australia and New Zealand. It’s also available online from Mills and Boon UK.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And here to fill us in on how her writing life is going since we met her a whole month ago we have the lovely Bridget Coady and the second of her blogs A Book With Biddy. So how's it been going Biddy?

Month One

One month. Four and a bit weeks. 31 days. 744 hours. 44,640 minutes. 2,678,400 seconds. That is how long my partial has been at Mills & Boon. Not that I have been counting you understand… oh no I am just marking it in my diary… every Thursday I note how many weeks it has been since they got it. Every day my heart beats a little faster as I unlock my front door and peer at the ground. My heart in my mouth if it looks like a big white envelope is sitting there… and then sudden deflation that another day has gone past without hearing. This is slow torture for an instant gratification kid like me.

This is a typical shopping dilemma for me:
“Buy on the internet it will be cheaper but you will have to wait for it to be posted OR buy now, pay more and have shiny shiny thing in your hand then and there?”

“Oooo shiny shiny thing come home with me my precious!”

See! No willpower.

I know waiting is what happens and this is just the beginning of the long wait but I am human enough to hope. I hope that they grabbed that partial as soon as it arrived, read it, hailed it as a masterpiece of writing and are at this moment drafting a contract for a three book deal based on those three measly chapters (oh and a rather bad synopsis.) Hey I suppose I should be glad my imagination is that fertile… I’ll need it for my book deal!

However I did have a nightmare this week that a fictional editor (bearing the same initials as the editor that has the partial) rejected it even though the rest of the editorial team liked it, she just didn’t care for it so overruled them… Try going back to sleep after that!

So interspersed with the dreams of fame and fortune and nightmares and sleepless nights, I have started BOOK TWO! Yes I have actually taken people’s advice (which is not my strong point… if I had book one would have been written years ago) and started on something new to distract myself from the wait. And I have fallen in love with my new hero. Lucas Kern, internationally renowned, critically acclaimed and well-known reclusive artist. This meant of course I had to find just the right photo as inspiration… cue much surfing of t’internet and voila! Meet Lucas Kern!

Yes, I know he looks remarkably like Gerard Bulter but these things happen… more frequently in the world of romance writing than anywhere else admittedly! Characterisation has been done and I am on page six… *rubs hands gleefully* It also meant I got to go to the National Gallery last weekend as “research”. It has been a bit slow starting as I have been tackling the tax return… I promise to do this year’s in April. I will. Honest. Maybe.

In that social whirly gig that romance writer’s call “work” I have been to a book launch this month. The very talented and disgustingly attractive Julie Cohen was launching her book One Night Stand at Waterstones in Reading. I was there as photographer extraordinaire and general heavy to ensure people bought the book. I am not sure the MP for Reading Central will walk into Waterstones again without a feeling of persecution as I was a tad full on in my attempts to get him to buy the book… But I was air kissed by her lovely editor Cat Cobain of Little Black Dress, so some of my networking at these social whirly giggy events is obviously paying off.

I am currently girding my loins for an influx of writerly types this next week as the RNA luncheon occurs and M&B have some sort of cocktail party… As always Coady Towers is fully booked but I have told them that breakfast is not included. I am hoping that being surrounded by published and encouraging types will rub off on me.

So yes, January has been a remarkably up and bouncy month. On all fronts I have been feeling renewed, invigorated and ready to hit 2008 hard. But I can already see some flagging, some bad habits creeping back in… I must learn to turn the TV off, I must start running again and I must keep the writing going.
Until next month… onwards and upwards! Oh and another picture of Lucas - this time walking down a street - for inspiration.
Don't forget to check back in March to see how Biddie's second month has gone and whether or not she survived the invasion of authors!!! Thanks Biddie!


  1. I liked the typical shopping dilemma... I remember editing my assignements in high school... but that is not the same thing ;)

  2. Thanks for blogging :)

    I am not a writer but always like to know the journey that leads a book on the shelves.

  3. Annie, what a fantastic blog and excellent advice to all writers out there. I too used to think when I started out that what I put down was deathless prose. Sadly, there is NO such thing as deathless prose. Anything can be improved. I think we've learnt our editing techniques together (yes, I am she of the eagle eye - bwahahahahaha!). I know now that what goes down first is just the skeleton and I need to eat lots of chocolate to put on the flesh. Um, that should be I should do lots and lots of rewriting and layering and judicious cutting to make sure that my diamond shines. Hey, can't wait for your new story, The Greek Tycoon's Unexpected Wife!

  4. Hi Nathalie and Lily.

    Anna, great to see you here. What an evil chuckle you have. Actually it IS - eat a lot of chocolate in order to finish the book, isn't it? Don't tell me I got that wrong? Do you mean to say I didn't need to eat goodies as I wrote and edited? But it sure makes it easier.

    Oh, by the way, have a huge smile on my face as I went shopping this morning and found THE GREEK TYCOON'S UNEXPECTED WIFE on the shelf. As I was buying a few other titles to read two people bought copies of my book. Fortunately I restrained myself - I was going to tell them they had wonderful taste (G) but then decided I might scare them too much!


  5. Ooh Annie, your story above made me laugh. I have to keep telling myself it is so not cool to tell a perfect stranger who has just picked up your book in a bookshop 'I wrote that.' Sooo not cool...

    My editing process? Don't know if I have one per se BUT one of my lightbulb moments came when I realised the difference between Art and Craft (or what I call in my head Soul and Sweat). I think writers can sometimes get so caught up in the craft - am I using active instead of passive voice, have I used too many adjectives... is abc the precise word I should use etc etc. When really, it is the story that matters most to a reader - is the story engaging, does it have heart, can I heighten the experience of this story for the reader emotionally, are my characters actually likeable (or at least empathetic).

    So absolutely, I'm all for polishing and tightening the prose... but not until I actually have a story worth polishing and tightening (if that makes sense).

    Oh yes, and chocoloate helps. A lot.

  6. Biddie - well done for starting your next book.

    Believe me - you'll still check the mail every day with your fingers crossed. But having a new story to get caught up in does help with all the waiting. And a focus for something YOU get control over (g).

    Good luck!

  7. Hi Michelle,

    Well, it may not be cool to tell complete strangers 'I wrote that book' but it's definitely tempting. I have however told people that friends of mine have written various books and pointed them out in loving detail. Most of the time I get friendly responses and a great chat about what they like in romances. Glad to hear someone else has these uncool impulses. To be frank, one of the reasons I didn't say anything was that I'd dashed into the shops and when I got there wondered how tidy I looked. I had shoes on both feet, admittedly, clean clothes and I had combed my hair. But after all, this book was a fantasy romance - glitz, glamour, wealth, luxury, passion. Maybe it would be disappointing discovering the author looked so ordinary? Note to self - wear glam clothes to shop in order to look like a Sexy/ Modern/ Presents author. No, don't think it would work (G).

    Michelle, what a fantastic point about the Soul vs Sweat in our stories. Without the soul all the polishing in the world won't help. And it can get so distracting. I once knew a writer who would try to analyse the work of successful writers by highlighting the number of 'ing' words they used per page or the number of adverbs or adjectives, as if there hidden rules and if she could just crack them she could write a book the editor would buy. Sadly it didn't work. And you know, she had some great story ideas. She just got distracted on the stuff that wasn't as important as the strength of the story.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on that, Michelle. It's really valuable advice.


  8. Biddy,

    Good luck with your next manuscript. With luck by the time you hear from the editor about your previous one you'll have made wonderful progress. It's great to have another story on the go when the call comes through. Editors like the idea of their writers being industrious and able to produce more stories.

    Fingers crossed for you.


  9. Annie,

    This is becoming a habit.

    Editing is such a pain. OK well it’s even more then that. People like me have a problem (more than one actually but I’ll concentrate on one). It’s the other writers out there. Given to opportunity to purchase from that selection. Why would someone want my scribble?

    I finished my first novel having deciding to get it all down and edit later. Thought it might take three or four days. What a painful exercise; what an amateur. I still find the odd error. --- Won’t do that again; number two is coming along fine. Every chapter is glowingly perfected before we move on. What a painful exercise. I’m thinking for my next I might do three chapters and stop to edit. I’m thinking I should have some formula where I write two and edit one before I write another, for balance. I’ve always liked doing flow charts and time lines. I’m also looking forward to the day that I just write exactly what I need in one pass and it’s finished. I still can’t help thinking any author worth their salt should be able to knock up a novel every two days. (Perhaps I’m still a little inexperienced.)

    I do agree with your approach to reading into the mood to start writing. I’m interested if anyone doesn’t do that and I find myself wondering how successful the alternative approach might be making love.

    Writing is a ‘funny’ pursuit. I come from a technical background. I won’t bore you with all the detail but one day I realised all the specifications were fiction. I didn’t care one bit wether customer purchased the system and in truth I often thought them unwise for entertaining the idea. Yet many took the time to thank me for my honesty. It’s true, writing fiction is the last profession where one can lie take the money and stay out of court without needing to move every few weeks.

    Which brings me back to editing; I’m finding as I grow into this writing idiom, editing is just another step in the process. As a general rule if I can make myself cry after eight or more reads, the soppy bits there. I need to be careful, I sometimes find myself crying when I shouldn’t be. That’s when I need to concentrate on the editing more.

    Biddy, It’s tough at the bottom. Writing is full of wicked problems. Meaning the problem has it’s answer tied up in the solution. It’s a real toss-up whether to spend a lifetime starting again or stopping to start anew.

    I like the anew approach (like you).

    A painter once told me the jobs finished when the customer is happy. For a writer that’s wicked problem. At first the customer is ourself. One day the customer may become an editor. And we all dream to be like Annie, when customer is each one of our many readers.

    Thank you Annie - Biddy

  10. I'm an instant gratification type, too. Try waiting for over a year (I kid you not) to hear about a full MS at M&B. Four weeks is nothing.

    And I'm still waiting...

    I, too, dreamt that once they read my full and synopsis I'd be phoned instantly by an amazed editor desperate to sign me up.

    Sigh. Maybe I'll hear soon. Good luck to you too, Biddy.

  11. Hi Annie
    Now, I'm going to make everyone puke and say I love editing, it's my favourite part of writing. As a total pantser it's easily the most satisfying part of the process because I find writing that first rough draft, really hard work. Mostly because I know the majority of what I'm writing is complete crap. But always in the back of my mind I have this little light saying as long as you know it's crap it's fixable - and then when I finished it I can get to work.

    And Biddy,

    Love those pictures of Gerard Butler (sorry, Lucas Kern), blimey they've inspired me too. Can't wait to hear this guy's story, so turn off the bloody telly and get writing it woman.

    My first ever published hero was an artist too. He was actually the hero of my second ms. I wrote that story while waiting eight months to get a form rejection on the first ms. Here's hoping you have better luck with your ms, but just think, if you don't and you've already got Lucas's story written you'll have something to send right back to them.


  12. Hi Eric, this IS becoming a habit. Lovely to see you here.

    It's hard to hit on the right approach to editing, isn't it? (that's if there is a right approach).

    Hm, knocking up a novel in 2 days? Would love to see that. Though I'm sure it wouldn't be a pretty sight.

    I hope you manage to decide on the best editing schedule for you. Mine seems to vary a little depending on the work in question.

    As for being finished when the customer is happy - that's a really hard one. I suppose for us it's when the writer is happy enough to send it to the editor (or a deadline intervenes, whichever is sooner) and when the editor is happy!

    I can so relate to your comment about wondering if anyone would want to read your scribble. That happens to me every time I read someone else's wonderful book. I suppose pushing through the doubt and just writing is one of the tasks we have to master.


  13. Nicolette, if it's any consolation we all dream of an editor reading our ms overnight and ringing us breathless the next day.

    As for time waiting, I think my record was a little over a year for a full ms...before I discovered that it had inadvertantly been tossed out and they'd lost my contact details. Had to resubmit. (NOT the London office of HMB, BTW).


  14. Ooh, Heidi - you LOVE editing?

    Actually, you have a point. By the time you get to the editing stage the hardest work is done - getting the words down on the page. I have days where it's like trying to keep up with a racing train and others where it's like pulling teeth. There's something comforting about knowing there's already a story down in black and white and all you have to do is fix it (he, he)!


  15. Hugs Nicolette. I'm in the same boat - ten months since my revisions on a full went in. Total wait time since I subbed the partial is almost 18 months - sigh.
    Keep writing Biddie!
    On the editing, I don't so much edit as adit as I underwrite then have to go back and add more layers, emotions, and depth.

  16. Hello all!

    Arriving a bit late but I have been drafted in to help my sister cater for a dinner party (see my blog for the full story).

    Thanks for all the best wishes... and Nicolette, blimey! A year! I am glad I have started something else other wise I wuld be attacking my postman on a regular basis and I think that is against the law.

    Eric - I am glad you are with me on the anew thingy... and I used to be an abandoner but have since decided that if I don't follow through I'll forget how to.

    Heidi - I'll take selling the second one! I am enjoying writing Lucas and Jo's story... a pig headed project manager meets a stubborn artist.

    Annie - I used to be a tinkerer but Julie Cohen and Michelle Styles told me to just 'write crap' and worry about it later. Which is what I have been doing except this week when I did need to go back and rack up the tension otherwise I would have been in trouble moving on.

    Back to being kitchen lackey... I'll try and get on later.


  17. Nell, good luck on the long wait. Sometimes I think that's the hardest part of the writing process.

    I know a few others who have an 'addit' process too, putting in the emotional layers on the second run through. I suppose I end up doing that to some extent but I find it easier (though slower) to try to get that in initially. Fascinating how different approaches work for different people. Does anyone else find their editing approach changes a little from book to book?


  18. Biddy, good to see you here in between dinner courses.

    Do you find your new approach to writing and editing is easier?


  19. Thanks for your comments Annie. Your warning not to get bogged down in editing and not move forward could have been written for me. Very much a problem in my first book -- and I still tend to spend a lot of time polishing the first few pages before I can move on. I'm a pantser - very much so.

    Now I try to move on and at least get enough down to feel that I know the story and how it develops. Some scenes are are almost complete - just need polishing. Some scenes are a scrap of conversation. Some are missing but for a brief note 'insert scene where x happens.' My first draft isn't really a draft at all. I've learned not to polish too much because there's a good chance of major changes as the plot/characters unfold. So editing is where most of the writing comes in for me.

    But I can;t help but feel this is a very unprofessional way to go about it. I've tried plotting. I just haven't mastered it.

    But, when it comes down to it, I'd rather edit than write. Writings the scary part. I'm never sure anythings going ot come out at all.

    Thanks for your blog. I've enjoyed reading the different comments


  20. Hi Annie

    Yes I do find the new way of writing and editing easier... although it took me ages to sit down and do the revisions that were needed last year.

    The dinner party went well.


  21. Hi Denise,

    I'm glad you found your way to the blog! It sounds like you've got a great system going that works for you. And if it works, don't knock it. I know plotting can seem so 'professional' or at least 'organised' but it's not for everyone, as I've discovered.

    So long as you're able to move on with your story you're doing well. And I agree, getting the words down can be so scary. Guess what I'm supposed to be doing today while I have the house to myself? (the tradesmen who were supposed to come and make noise all day have just cancelled) I'm supposed to be getting new pages down. And am I....? I'll have to take a leaf out of your book and get writing.

    As for never being sure anything's going to come out of the writing - I'm learning to trust that something will, even if it's stuff that's going to need LOTS of editing!


  22. Biddy,

    Glad the dinner party was a success. Glad too that the new approach to writing and editing is helping. Good luck with it!


  23. Ah, I see the next blog has just been posted so it's time to select a contributor to win a copy of THE GREEK TYCOON'S UNEXPECTED WIFE.

    OK, a quick random draw and we have...DENISE.

    Denise, if you email me at with your postal address, I'll pop a copy in the mail to you. Congratulations.

    Thanks everyone for sharing their thoughts on editing. I'm taking a few thoughts away from this discussion that I might try out on this current book.

    Happy writing, and reading, of course.