It's the difference between not being published and being published.
I remember when I was trying - and failing - to be published. (God, I remember it.) Anyway. I went to a thing. I'd like to call it an event but it was seriously uneventful. It was a gathering of people who wanted to listen to someone - not me - who'd had a book published. Or, as I now realise, self-published. (Which is fine, because actually it was the right sort of book to be s-pubbed, being a genuinely niche book.) Anyway, I got chatting to the author. And I made the big mistake of telling her about my lengthy editing Process. God, what a process, I said. I edit and edit and hone and hone and slice and splice and generally try to make it as perfect as I can.
"Oh," she said. "Don't bother with that. I can always tell an over-edited piece of work. One should never edit too much."
CRAP. One should edit and edit and edit and edit until there is nothing more one can possibly do. As Oscar W famously said. "I spent all morning editing a poem and I removed one comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again."
I have never edited "too much". Sure, sometimes I have to stop because I have reached The Deadline and people are about to shout at me, which I hate, but I would rather carry on. And on. And...
By the way, that woman's book really really really needed editing.
So do my blog-posts but that's different because if you don't like my stream of consciousness you don't have to read it. You haven't paid me, after all. More's the pity, you mean buggers.
So. Editing. I have talked about it before. But I want to take a different tack on it today. There are, it seems, three things to do.
- You must cut.
- You must add.
- And you must check for hidden nastiness.
Well, one thing's for sure: you shouldn't just bulk it up with some more description or character analysis or whatever. Because, for crying out loud, that's what you just took out.
So, what we might need is a whole new angle. A new sub-plot. And that's not easy. And might look added on. So, ask yourself this: what if... well, what if anything. What if a new character suddenly forced his or her way in? Yay! Right at the start. What if someone was watching your first chapter and muscled in? Seriously. Just forced his way in. Bastard! Deal with him. He could cause serious damage. Ooh, damage - that would be GOOD, no? Could so disrupt your other characters. See, they were sitting there all complacent when suddenly someone from Carrie's past, or Joel's past, or someone from the future, or just someone with a new agenda arrives. Ooh, what shenanigans. Could be someone that Sarah would hate or Esma would fall in love with.
Or, maybe not a whole new angle. Maybe a diversion. Maybe you had been so focused on the imminent ending that you hurtled your characters too quickly towards it. So, how about if, instead of having three things that get in the way of your MC's aim, you have FOUR? Ooh, just as the reader thought it was going SO well, you introduce a huge new spanner, and it throws everything into disarray.
Crikey, it could take another 20,000 to get out of that.
So, new character or spanner. Go on, you know you want to.
Thing is, there'll be a load more editing to do because then you'll need to do the cutting and checking again. And you'll find bits that need re-threading and tweaking. But it will be worth it. Because eventually you will have your beautiful final draft.
Well, of course, a bit more editing. Mmmm. And eventually it's not a draft any more. No, it's not perfect - it never will be. But it will be as perfect as you can make it.
And that's enough.
Go edit. Cut. Add. Check.