Editing – a search for coherence

Two drafts of Woven down and it seemed right to begin a third draft for editing: start at the beginning and tidy up notes added after my online workshopping class, add more tell, include protagonist emotional observations, work out the flow and fix plot issues. Well, that’s what I told myself …

Over two weeks in early August, I found myself re-writing the first few chapters and then the doubt crept in. All drafts are formatted in standard manuscript style – double spaced, left justified, size 12 Times New Roman – so fiddling with the look of the thing wasn’t needed. I changed the opening to reflect suggestions from the workshopping group, then changed them back. Re-organise my chapter summaries, check for tension in each chapter, ask myself: does everything support the goal or central question of the piece? If I get rid of that character it means I have to make changes in later chapters …

Flicking between drafts and saved paragraphs from other documents became quite confusing. It just didn’t fill me with joy. So I followed the group’s suggestion to take time off and have not written for a whole two weeks. No diarising, no journalling, no post it notes of ideas.

Not that this was the intention. I planned to just write morning pages. But when you’ve spent the best part of a year developing a writing routine and then have a break, you feel less like writing. Well, I did.

Central to writing is the act of reading, which I did continue through the writing break (or drought). Then, a Facebook post that contained an image of Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book  made me think of her delightful Searching for the Secret River. So I put down the crime thrillers and commercial fiction to read this again, hoping for some editing gems.

No matter how often you hear (and know) that there are as many different ways to write as there are ideas, and developing my own process throughout this year, I realised I had fallen into the ‘teacherly’ mode of editing which usually involves much shorter pieces than a novel. Treating each chapter as it’s own short story can help, but you need to keep sight of the whole. I needed to consider how other people edit.

Earlier in the year, pre-covid, I had attended a workshop titled ‘Working with an Editor’. It was an enjoyable afternoon, full of definitions of terms, but very much closer to the end of the journey ie. once someone is seriously looking at your work and you have a contract. My editing needs to finesse my manuscript so that I can attract that kind of attention.

Yes, I’ve read blogs and articles about the process of editing, and heard sound advice. But it really is an individual journey. Kate’s book, and writing style, gave me an idea of how I might progress.

Searching for the Secret River is divided into three parts that I have roughly identified as

  1. Research
  2. Writing
  3. Editing.

Clearly, these areas overlap and are reflective of different parts of the process: each informs the other.

Of course it is much more than this. Kate had begun with a quest to understand a family ancestor and a plan for a non-fiction book. Working through her knowledge, of both white and Indigenous characters, she realised that her book would be best told as fiction. This came after several drafts, re-organising the plot, creating multiple timelines, culling or reducing historical facts and struggling with dialogue. This occurred over several years, and I wonder how she has managed to retell the story of her process in such detail.

The blurb on the back cover describes Searching for the Secret River as ‘… a portrait of the imagination in action.’ No matter where you are on your writing journey, this is a book you must read.


*book cover image from Text Publishing

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