I’m in that really awkward stage of editing my  novel…that’s where I start cutting sections out of the story or placing them somewhere else while I decide what to do next.  It’s a confusing process.  As I said elsewhere, I feel the first twelve chapters have structural problems concerning too much back story introduced either too soon or in the wrong places.  I noted also that some of the warmth and the charm from earlier rewrites had now gone, lost in a flurry of grim memories of rising vigilantism on a tough housing estate in 1980s Britain.  

I often think that self- editing is a bit like trying to cut your own hair in front of a mirror.  Styling the front of the hair is probably the easiest part, but things get complicated when you reach the sides and back.  The following, I believe, should guide a writer’s attempts at a rewrite:

  • Keep the material you really care about, but remember to make any small changes for clarification purposes.  
  • Try to keep the plot as simple as possible at first.  Then, you can develop it and add unexpected twists and turns.  Problems usually occur when the various strands of the plot are introduced too early on.   This confuses readers and leaves little to work on later in the story.
  • Trust your own intuition.  If something in the writing just doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.   The opposite is true, of course.  Others might not like what you’ve written, but you know it’s excellent.  Stick to your story.
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4 thoughts on “Self-Editing and Haircuts

  1. Hi Lawrence – I’ve seen comments with your name on the sites i visit, but I have not untill now had success in clicking on your link and it taking me to your site! I am here now 🙂

    As I supposed by your comments I read elsewhere, we are at a similar stage in writing. When editing my first novel I re-wrote and re-organized the beginning chapters so many times (and I’m still not sure of it…). I cut out a prologue. Re-inserted, re-wrote, and finally removed it again, while adding in a whole new chapter one. I agree that the most challenging part was how to fit in the backstory while keeping the reader’s interest , and keeping with the whole ‘showing not telling”. I had to create scenes where dialogue and action told about the character’s and their history, but somehow, I had to make sure that a reader would WANT to know this! Oh yes – and I had to cut out some great writing (or at least what I thought was great writing 🙂 as i believed it slowed down the story too much. What a learning process. But, wow, how much cleaner my novel two is coming out! (sorry for the long long comment).

  2. Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. Yes, it sounds very much like you’re working on exactly the same issues as I am. Even now, I’m spending huge amounts of time just on the first six chapters of my second novel, dealing with the points you just raised (e.g. how much back story to include).

    I shall take a look at your site now.

  3. Hello Lawrence, I also got here through one of your blog comments …. on Cynthia’s Catching Days.

    I feel I’ve started my novel in the right place, but I’ve rewritten the first couple paragraphs at least seven times. I’m still not satisfied with it. I keep reading about the importance of that first line … paragraph … page and hyperventilate.

    As for all the cutting, expanding, moving around, I’m there too. I love it actually, though sometimes in the back of my mind I wonder if I just improved that scene or took the life out of it. I’m looking forward to the final round when I will go back and polish every word until it gleams.

  4. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I would suggest you don’t do any more revision on the opening section for the time being. Novels develop, and sometimes that will mean the opening has to be rewritten entirely or altered to allow for new changes. Also, like you mentioned, the editing can take the life out of a scene. I’ve seen this happen in my own writing many times. It’s better to get on with the story and leave the editing for later.

    All the best with your writing. I shall visit your blog at some point today.

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