Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Recently a friend of my mum’s asked me for some advice on self-publishing his book. Some time around bashing out the tenth paragraph of my email and suggesting we should perhaps meet up to discuss it all in more detail, I realised I have quite a lot to say on the matter.

I’m not going to tell you to run a spell-checker, or do a thorough proof-read. That’s pretty obvious, right? But here are some of the less obvious things I have learned through four years and two novels worth of self publishing.
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1) Set Your Expectations

The first – and rather brutal – thing to acknowledge, is that no one cares about your book except you. I know, I know, you’ve spent the past ten years labouring over your magnum opus, and it’s precious and delicate and magical as a new born baby, and if you ever thought about it at all, you probably figured something along the lines of, “Build it and they will come,” right?

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In my experience, they will only come if you drag them kicking and screaming, and maybe leave them a breadcrumb trail of freebies, blog tours and guest posts.

Most of the books you sell – whether paperbacks or ebooks – are likely to be to people you know.

The paperbacks I’ve sold are mostly either to people I know or via stalls at fairs/festivals. Ie, in person rather than via shops (online or brick). Very few people are willing to take a punt on a self published book by someone they don’t know – even if the ebook is £1. Even if it’s free! They certainly won’t fork out £8 on a paperback without a lot of persuasion.

You may be thinking, “But paperbacks are cheap! I rarely pay more than £3.99 for a paperback from Amazon.”

Mass produced paperbacks are – or can be – cheap. Your self-published run of 50 or 100 is not. By the time you’ve recouped your manufacturing and handling fees and allowed yourself a couple of quid profit/remuneration for the years of hard work you’ve put into your book, you’re unlikely to be selling a paperback for less than £8 (though obviously this depends on the length of the book and what publishing package you use).

You may have more luck expanding your audience with ebooks. The major advantages are:

  • customers can try before they buy with a free sample
  • ebooks have no production costs, so can be sold far cheaper for the same – or greater – profit
  • there are no postage costs
  • they can even be returned if they turn out to be drivel, making people more likely to take a chance.

The disadvantage is that ebooks are very easy to forget about. I am a kindle owner. I read quite a lot of ebooks – but not half as many as I download samples of. Most of the samples I download I never even open. Why? Usually I forget all about it immediately. By the time I get around to noticing that new book on my shelf I’ve forgotten what it was or where it came from or why I thought it might be interesting. I’m also very busy. When I finally have time to sit down and read I often have a clear idea of what I want to read next, and don’t feel like giving some unknown thing of dubious provenance a chance.

Conclusion: do a print and ebook version, but be aware of their respective markets.

2) Have a Marketing Plan

I read this exact piece of advice prior to publishing Darklands. “A what??” I thought. I’m a web designer by day; novelist by night. At no point does marketing enter into my job description or skill set!

Reader, I did not have a marketing plan.

After publishing Darklands and rapidly realising the truth of point 1, I belatedly tried to scrabble some marketing efforts together. It was a bit pitiful.

I’m still pitiful when it comes to marketing. I squirm from self promotion. I’m embarrassed to impose myself on nice, busy people who have far better things to do than take any notice of me. It all just seems so… uncouth.

But it IS necessary so, like me, you’re going to have to knuckle down and do your best – however pitiful that may be. Since I am a self-confessed dunce when it comes to marketing, I won’t attempt to advise you how. Instead, check out the optimistically titled 89 book marketing ideas that will change your life or many other online resources.

3) Get Reviews

Reviews are vital, and objective reviews from people you don’t know are vitallerer 😉

The best reviews to have are from organisations rather than individuals. ‘Organisation’ in this context might just mean a bored teenager with a book blog. But the important thing is that when quoting the lovely review you recieved, you get to attribute it to ‘Ace Books Weekly’ rather than to ‘Julie from Slough.’ I think you can see which sounds more impressive.

There is an excellent, thorough list on Indie View of book bloggers who accept self published books. It’s a hard slog sifting through them all for appropriate people to approach; and most of the time you will be rejected (by rejected I mean, ignored). But persevere. There likely are people who will give your book a chance, and every review helps your credibility massively.

For advice on how to approach reviewers, see this post on Empty Mirror.

If you’ve got a budget to throw at the problem, then check out this Alliance of Indepent Authors post (but also see point 5).

The really important thing about reviews is being able to quote them on your book jacket or inside cover as well as any online listings – you know, like a real book. But in order to do that you need to be getting those reviews prior to publication, which means querying reviewers months prior to publication.

4) Set a Release Date

When I had finally really definitely totally finished Darklands, and sweated over MS Word and checked all the formatting and corrected all the glitches, I couldn’t wait to finally get it out there. I hit publish, and the next morning it was available to buy. But… no one knew, because I hadn’t forewarned them. Of course, I posted about it as soon as it was out there. But guess what? Other people were busy doing their usual Saturday morning things: grocery shopping, taking the kids swimming, cleaning the car, walking the dogs. No doubt many of the people who saw my posts were very happy for me – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were going to drop everything and go check out my book!

Set a release date. Build anticipation. Allow people to pre-order. That way when the book becomes available you will get a number of sales right away – and that means your Amazon ranking is going to be as good as it possibly can be right away – and that means you are going to appear higher up any relevant search results – which *may* boost sales, and will certainly help your credibility.

I’m not actually certain whether the option to pre-order was available when I published Darklands. If it was I disregarded it in my giddy excitement to get my first book published. Or maybe I thought, “I can’t set a release date. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to sort out all these goddamn formatting wierdnesses…”

However long you think it’s going to take – it’s probably going to take twice that long (see point 7). If you want to be really thorough, get your book all ready first. Do the formatting. Check the preview copies. Iron out the errors. Only when you’re happy that it’s all ready to go do you set the publication date.

Then start drumming up interest.

5) Spend your Money Wisely

So you’re self-publishing your book. A lot of people want your money. A LOT. They are hungry vultures circling tasty, meaty you.

You absolutely do not need to spend £1000s or even £100s on expert help, guidance, services or materials. You don’t need to order 1000 copies of your book and have boxes of it sitting in your garage like a stubborn toothache for the rest of your life. You don’t need to buy a professional sounding publication package that actually doesn’t give you anything you couldn’t have done yourself anyway.

Don’t spend anything without researching who you’re giving your money to, exactly what you’re getting in return – and most importantly, what the rest of the internet says about their services. There are many excellent online resources who keep an eye on the scams and schemes that exist purely to profit from your naivety. Check out Writer Beware or David Gaughran for starters.

Print on Demand may be a far better option than buying 1000 copies of your book up front. I use UK based company, Feed A Read. In all honesty, their website is glitchy and often frustrating, but any queries I raise get replied to within a day or two, and if I can’t do what I need to via the website, then they’ll allow me to email any necessary files direct. The resulting books are good quality, they don’t charge for unnecessary fluff services,* they’re supported by the Arts Council of England, and just generally don’t seem especially evil. That’s as glowing a recommendation as you’re likely to get.

* Well, you could count the distribution package as unnecessary fluff. I paid £80 for Darklands to be available to proper bookshops through normal distribution channels as well as to Amazon. Of course, that’s only useful if you’ve persuaded any bookshops to stock your book – and for some reason can’t supply them with copies yourself.

I know you want the distribution package, cuz that makes your book proper! But I’ve decided to forego it for Kikimora. I really didn’t feel the benefit. And Feed A Read have introduced a new, more economical service now whereby they can sell the book through Amazon Marketplace. This seems a much more worthwhile deal – though I’ll know more once I’m actually using it.

6) Get the Formatting Right

It’s vital to create as good an impression as possible with your self published book – whether ebook or paperback. Take care with your formatting. Don’t rely on changing fonts and sizes manually; use styles. Styles allow you to name a particular kind of text within your document (ie, basic text, chapter heading, first paragraph) and apply rules to it, including font, size, margins, line-spacing, etc. It is then easy to change any of those rules as it becomes necessary – and believe me, you will try various changes before you settle on the best for your book.

For example, your ebook will most likely want to use a basic sans-serif font (though most e-readers allow readers to change this themselves), but your print book would more likely use a serif font (such as Times New Roman). When you see the production costs for your print book, you might start thinking, “Damn, do I really need it to be double spaced? How big does that text look once I’ve resized the document to the exact dimensions specified by the printer? Maybe it’s too big, maybe it’s too small. How about those chapter headings? They look better not bold, after all…”

Using styles, these changes are easy to make and undo to trial different looks and layouts until you get it right.

But there is a caveat! One I fell foul of with Darklands, and I could not understand until I noticed the same thing happening with Kikimora.

If your writing process is anything like mine, by the time you have a completed manuscript some areas of its text will have been copied and pasted from different documents many times. The document format may have changed from say Open Office to Word. This leaves you in danger of formatting glitches.

Say during the writing process your basic text was set to 12pt Verdana. You copied a section from another document (a previous version of your manuscript, perhaps) and pasted it in to the master copy. The other document was also using 12pt Verdana, so all is good, right?

Maybe not. Make sure that any passages you copy in get your ‘basic text’ style applied, and don’t rely on manual styling. Otherwise, you might find when you change it all to Times New Roman those random pasted passages are still Verdana – and the only people who’ll notice are your first readers. Eek.

Word processing packages can be ever so ‘helpful’ when it comes to retaining text formating from one document to another. Get in the habit of manually stripping formatting any time you paste text in, and then ensuring your custom styles are applied. If your word processing package doesn’t make it easy, then a simple way round it is to copy any text into notepad and from there into your master document. Any formating rules will be lost, and it will take on the rules in your master document, as you want it to.

7) Take your Time

None of this stuff is difficult, but it is astonishingly time consuming. Factor this in when thinking about release dates. If your writing activities are time-limited (cuz you also have a full-time job, family commitments, some kind of life), then I wouldn’t even set a release date until you have already done ALL of this.

For example, I work *almost* full time. The only time I have for writing and writerly activities is Thursday and Friday afternoons – and occasional Saturdays if I can be let off family commitments. I finished the final edit of Kikimora in August. Since then my writing afternoons have been spent:

  • querying reviewers
  • researching publication requirements for my various platforms
  • formatting the manuscript
  • proofing the cover design

That’s it. Three months has passed. Kikimora the ebook is released tomorrow. I submitted, proofed and accepted the final files for my print book today – so it still won’t be available for some weeks (In retrospect I should have been more organised and got both out together. This is something I’ve learnt very recently as I’m going through the process. I would have pushed it all back, but didn’t want to risk ending up the wrong side of Christmas!)

So those are some of the things I wish I’d known when I set out. What things have you learned the hard way whilst publishing your own books? I hope my experiences help, and wish you all the very best of luck.

For the past few months I’ve been hard at work completing a final edit of Kikimora. I’ve now made the last checks for continuity, spelling, grammar, formatting, etc…

Guys, it’s done.

In true difficult-second-album stylee, this one’s been a bit of a slog. I thought it would be easier the second time around! I thought: I know what I’m doing now. I know the pitfalls to avoid. I know how to motivate myself. I know how stories veer off track, and how to steer them back. And I’m doing something much simpler and shorter!*

Yeah well, apparently I don’t know Jack…

There have been setbacks aplenty; some personal, some professional (as in the job that actually pays me…) and some writing related. But finally the Is are all dotted; the Ts are crossed, and Kikimora is ready to go out into the world and seek her fortune. You can read the final, expanded version of the opening chapter here.

sunlight on water

A shady pool, as beloved by Rusalkas

I expect to publish Kikimora at the end of October. As with Darklands I’ll do a soft-launch first of ebook only, followed by a paperback within a month or so (before Christmas!) Currently I’m putting together some review copies, and my design consultant is working on the cover design – check back soon for a sneak peak!

To all those who’ve stuck with me, thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll enjoy the results.

* Kikimora has actually turned out exactly the same length as Darklands :-/

The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition

I’ve never been able to write short stories. No doubt part of the problem is that I don’t often read short stories. With a few notable exceptions (Saki, Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link), I don’t particularly like short stories. I’m generally of the opinion that if something is worth telling, it’s worth settling down, getting comfy and spending a good few hours with.

But people are forever telling aspiring writers they should enter competitions – and most writing competitions are for short stories. So occasionally I find myself knuckling down and giving it a try. Most of the time what I end up producing is a story fragment: the beginning of what obviously ought to be a much longer work, or a snapshot of a moment, that er doesn’t actually tell a story at all.

Back in January I learnt of a zombie short story competition being run by SFX magazine, to be judged by Zom-B and Cirque du Freak author, Darren Shan. The criteria were that it had to feature a santa outfit and christmas lights, and be no more than 1500 words.

1500 words! That’s nothing. What on earth can you say that’s worth saying in 1500 words??

Nevertheless I determined to try. One night, instead of sleeping, I had an idea for the story, and I crept out of bed in the small hours to jot down some notes. I expected that, as is often the way with insomnia inspired notes, they would turn out to be nonsensical gibberings. But in the morning the notes still seemed to show promise, and I set about writing the story.

I finished the draft that afternoon, and set it aside to mature. The next problem I have with short story competitions is that my writing process moves at a glacial pace. Those who have been waiting 2+ years for Kikimora to be released know this to be true.

I generally rewrite every scene several times before I’m done, and I don’t trust anything I’ve written to be any good until it has sat untouched for a good few months and I can come back and read it with fresh eyes.

Obviously you do not get that luxury when entering a competition. I began my story, The Big Guy, just a week before the closing date. The next day I decided it was utter nonsense, and I had better write something else.

I came up with a completely different idea, a more conventional survivors-of-the-zombie-apocalypse scenario – though still, I hoped, with some entertaining quirks to the trope.

I wrote a couple of opening scenes I was pleased with (I’m particularly proud of the scene where the hungover protagonist has to fight her zombie co-workers in the toilets (after passing out during the office christmas party), with only a bottle of bleach and bog brush as weapons) – and then I ran out of word count. I pared down those two opening scenes until nothing I liked remained, wrote in the next couple of scenes, again ran out of word count.

I stripped it back still further, I reached an end point, of sorts. I read it back. It was useless. The set up had promise, but a 1500 word short story was not the platform for this particular story. It read like the opening of a TV series, a British Walking Dead with added goofiness and ill-advised drunken sex.

I still wasn’t sure about The Big Guy (I’d only had chance to rewrite it three times). Was the tone right? Was it too silly? Too depressing? An awkward mixture of both those things? I very much suspected it was.

But on the plus side it was the first short story I’ve ever written which had a beginning, middle and end; that told an actual story, and did it all in less than 1500 words. That in itself seemed an achievement. And so I submitted it.

Almost two months later the editor of SFX emailed to say I’d won the competition, that Darren Shan and the other judges loved The Big Guy. To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement.

I went back to reread my story, and of course wanted to take a red pen to it. How did I let that line stay in it? What’s with that woeful description? Was I drunk when I wrote it? But apparently it was good enough. And perhaps the lesson to be learnt here (as well as to keep on trying) is that structure might be more important than fine prose? Get the shape of the story right (and I do feel confident that The Big Guy’s story structure is sound and solid), and the fine detail of precisely which words you use – although clearly still important – might not be quite as vital as the story itself (readers of Dan Brown surely realised this a long time ago. I am late to the party).

So will I give up my many months gestation on new writing? Allow it to pass the gate rough and ready? Not a chance. What I will do though is try to concentrate more on the shape, the load-bearing pillars of my stories. I’m pretty sure that will stand me in good stead.

You can read my winning entry in this month’s SFX (out today allegedly, though not yet in my local Tescos). Pics to follow!

A huge thanks to the SFX team and to Darren Shan for providing me with a much needed boost when I needed it most. Cheers guys.

me with fizz

me with champagne (not today, but I’ll look very similar when we crack a bottle open shortly – just wearing ten extra layers…) [photo credit: Uncut ID]

I know I have not been a good blogger recently. Work commitments stepped up and this left me with little writing time. What time I had I naturally wanted to spend finishing my two-years-overdue work in progress, Kikimora.

And today I finally have. Hallelujah! It’s been a hell of a slog. I originally envisaged it as a short, simple story, something a bit easier after the three plus years I spent on Darklands. Well, here we are four years later and 40,000 words over budget…

The edit can wait for another day. Today I’m just happy with having reached a draught (certainly not a first draft, and definitely not the last) – but a draught which is of reasonable enough quality that I may manage to hand it over to a trusted ally for some constructive criticism. Or I may sit in my darkened room for another year with a red pen, crossing words out and putting slightly different words back in…

The main issue is that it’s too damned long, clocking in at a hefty 136,000 words. Darklands was 114,000, and I thought that was really a bit too long.

The draught I’ve just completed started out eight months ago with the lofty intention of trimming the manuscript by a quarter. Instead I added about 10,000 words :-/

But I will persevere. I know roughly where I need to trim. I like the beginning, I like the end. The middle section sags and is all doughy and bleh. I need to whittle it down, and liven it up. As I say, a job for another day. Today I am so happy to have finally reached this milestone.

As a taster, here is the glossary I have just written, introducing characters from a variety of mythologies who either make an appearance or are referenced:

Baba Yaga A dreadful witch. She flies through the air in a pestle and mortar, and lives in a hut that stands on chicken’s legs.
Bacchus The Roman god of wine and revelry.
Banshee A female spirit in Celtic mythology, said to foretell death with a terrible wailing.
Czernoboch A Slavic god with dual roles of death and rebirth.
Djinn A genie.
Hecate Greek goddess of witchcraft, poison and necromancy.
Leshy The guardian of the forest. Fierce and wild; humans should be wary of him.
North Wind A frequent character in many mythologies, particularly European ones – bluff, fierce and unpredictable.
Old Silenus Companion of Bacchus, habitually drunken and riding on a donkey.
Orpheus Renowned musician from Greek mythology whose music caused riots and hysteria.
Red Cross Knight Saint George, as described battling with a dragon in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem of 1590, The Fairy Queen.
River Styx In Greek mythology the river you must cross to reach the land of the dead.
Rusalka In Slavic folklore a water spirit, much like a mermaid. Fierce and treacherous, their aim is to lure people to drown in their pools.

Any of that particularly take your fancy? I know my sister is looking forward to reading about Leshy, Baba Yaga and the Rusalkas – they are after all the main mythological presence in a Slavic set story. But the story’s characters are well read and curious, and well aware of other folklore traditions.

Why is it so utterly impossible and infuriating and time-devouring to write a synopsis for your novel?

Since I’m currently taking a hiatus from Kikimora‘s editing, I thought I should have another go at a decent synopsis. Days later, I emerge, blinking and disoriented. I’ve done it! I’ve written 137 words that I only kind of hate a bit… :-S

This is my umpteenth attempt at Kikimora’s synopsis. There have been three or four major versions – all quite different, yet all equally true to the story. How is that possible?

My first attempt was perhaps a little high on whimsy and low on hook:

Raised in isolation by a brooding magician and his learned cat, Kikimora has almost come of age – and that means she has a destiny to fulfil. For Kikimora is no ordinary girl, but a monster spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, and her purpose is to wreak vengeance on mankind.

But Kikimora’s nature is not harsh or cruel. Sent out into the human world alone, she will need all of her ingenuity and resourcefulness to overcome the destiny laid out for her, and perhaps find her own path to happiness.

It clearly wasn’t good enough, so I sought some advice, courtesy of Mike Wells. With a formula* in hand, I had another go:

crazy bacteria stuff growing in thermal pools

I choose to express my feelings on synopsis writing in an abstract manner.

Since her creation, Kikimora has been raised to believe that humans are a blight upon the planet; greedy, stupid and unreasonable. Commissioned to bring about the ruination of a mining community, she wants to prove herself a good and dutiful monster.

But Kikimora finds that cruelty and spite do not come easily to her. Nor had she anticipated falling in love with the very worst of the men, the gunpowder master.

When a rockfall traps the miners deep underground and the caverns slowly fill with water, will Kikimora betray her master and upbringing to rescue the miners – even if it means sacrificing everything?

Meh. I get the need for a hook, but I don’t want to sound like a (bad) Hollywood thriller. Forgetting all about the formula, I took a fresh approach:

Korsakov forest is changing. Where carefree Rusalka once swam in golden pools, now sulphurous run-off from the mines has clouded and poisoned the waters. Where impenetrable forest stretched across the horizon, now ancient trees are felled and burnt.

But the inhabitants of the forest have a plan; a simple, ruthless plan. From the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer is spun a strange creature: half child, half nightmare. Schooled in cruelty, Kikimora’s sole purpose is to terrorise the encroaching humans and drive them away.

But Kikimora finds herself strangely unprepared for the realities of the human world. As she learns more about humans, she begins to question her upbringing and her purpose.

When disaster strikes the humans, Kikimora must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or the humans she has sworn to destroy.

There are some elements of that which I like, but it still sounds stilted and clunky (they all do, I know!) Finally I’ve attempted a mash up with the above and the formula version, and I think it’s the best I’ve got so far. But I’ll probably have rewritten it by tomorrow…

When mining pollution threatens to destroy their home, the spirits of Korsakov forest enlist the help of the world’s greatest sorcerer to create a monster. Spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, Kikimora’s purpose is to terrorise the miners and drive them from the forest for ever.

But Kikimora discovers there is much her guardians neglected to teach her about humans: important things like music and friendship and love. Drawn into their lives, their hopes and fears, Kikimora’s heart rebels against her duty, and she begins to question her purpose.

When disaster strikes the miners, she must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or with the humans she has sworn to destroy.

But defying her destiny could mean sacrificing everything – even her life.

Thoughts, anyone? I feel like I’ve bludgeoned the story to death, and there is no charm or life left in it. But that’s probably (hopefully) over-familiarity breeding contempt. Does anything about this synopsis intrigue or invite, or should I go back to the drawing board again? (or throw my computer out of the window?)

Who else has trouble writing synopses? Anyone got any great tips or advice?

* visit the site for the full version, but the essence is:
Hero + situation should = goal; unless villian causes it to = disaster.

As discussed yesterday, I had to add in a new scene to the gutted opening chapter of Kikimora.

Kikimora is a monster, created for the purpose of terrorising humans. But she has been raised by a natural philosopher type of magician, and so her education is intellectual as well as practical. In order to give a flavour of her peculiar upbringing I wanted to mention some of the obscure texts she is required to read, and the words she doesn’t understand and has to ask to be explained to her.

These texts are largely concerned with the nature of evil, with death, horror and torture. What kind of strange words might she encounter in them?

This has brought me back to a perennial issue of how you decide what age group you are writing for. It’s such a big topic that it deserves a post of its own (and will get one shortly). But for the time being, I’m veering towards the middle-grade camp, (9-12 year olds), rather than young adult.

The Stora Hammars stone from Gotland

The Stora Hammars stone from Gotland, demonstrating ‘The blood-eagle’ [Source: Wikipedia]

One of the terms I’m thinking of using is ‘Blood-eagle.’ The passage in question reads,

“Blood-eagle: a method of execution practised by the Norse-men, in which the ribs are severed from the spine, and splayed out like wings, followed by the lungs.”

You might think: that is far too gruesome for children! Are you insane?

But although it was long ago, I kind of remember being ten. What I recall is that although real death and misery upset me greatly (I remember running away from the TV news and locking myself in the bathroom to cry) I was fascinated by abstract horror. I loved visiting medieval castles, and was always most interested in the torture devices.

Of course, that horror was once visited on real people, but at the age of ten, medieval times seemed as far away and as unreal as myths and fairy tales.

Another reason I’m uncertain about it is that it occurs on the first page or so. I wouldn’t want anyone to read that and be put off, thinking the whole book is going to be gruesome and sensationalist.

It is so hard to get the correct balance in the opening pages of your story, and there are so many subtle little ways you can screw it up.

I suspect that the deciding factor in whether or not it’s acceptable is not so much how graphic the description is, but whether it is an abstract idea (like the definition of blood-eagle), or whether it’s an actual event happening in the story.

Thoughts, anyone? What’s the most gruesome thing you’ve read in a children’s book? And did you think it was too much, or was it okay? More importantly did the kids think it was upsetting? Or did they laugh gleefully and tell all their pals?

YodaI am increasingly asked to proof-read documents at work, although it is nothing to do with my job, which is web design.

I’m good at proof-reading, and kind of enjoy it – I think a mild streak of pedantry runs in the family.

Proof-reading implies that the manuscript, paper or whatever is finished and just needs the grammar and spelling checking. But often when I start to proof-read it quickly turns into editing, and sometimes re-writing.

Just last week I destroyed and re-wrote a document my boss had prepared (yeah, I know how to win friends and influence people :-S), as well as eviscerating the marketing department’s output (“This is a fragment, not a sentence … Who are ‘they’? … Talk like Yoda you do…”)

I have learned to be a ruthless editor through painstakingly honing my own writing over the past 25+ years. Even so, I still sometimes baulk at tearing apart weeks-worth of work.

I have known for some time that I needed to rework the opening chapters of Kikimora. They were still pretty much as I wrote them two and a half years ago when I was making my first forays into the story, and didn’t really know where it was going yet. So much about the story has changed since I wrote those opening chapters that they don’t really work any more.

Kill your darlings,” they say, and I have done many times. But I baulked at this more than most. Perhaps because it was a larger piece than I normally have to cut; because it’s the opening passage; or because I felt that it set the scene so well.

But after all that ruthless editing at work, I felt that it was time to turn the same gimlet eye on my own manuscript. I printed off the opening chapters, sitting down at my table with highlighter, red pen, and much trepidation.

I slashed and burned.

One of the passages I was fond of, but which I grudgingly decided had to go is as follows:

Occasionally, emissaries from distant corners of the world came seeking Anatoly. They called him, Master of Mysterious Arts, Lord Shape-Changer, the Finest Magician the world has ever known. And then they poured gold and jewels at his feet, flattered him some more, and finally asked him to do something for them.

Sometimes Anatoly simply said, “No,” and sent the emissary on his way. Sometimes he asked for more details of the assignment, and then decided it didn’t interest him. Only rarely did he take the gold and accept the commission.

I was fond of that passage, and thought it a nice summation of that character’s set-up. However, in the very next chapter an emissary arrives from a distant land, bringing Anatoly rich gifts, and begs his help in finding a missing princess. You see the problem? In swift succession, I tell what the character does, and then I show what he does.

The opening chapters are vital to hooking your readers. There is no room for sloppiness and redundancy. The above piece had to go.

I was okay slicing through the prose with a red pen, but when it came to stitching back together what was left, I felt lost and bewildered and didn’t know where to start. Yesterday I began the slow and painful process. I produced far less work than I’d hoped to, and was not proud of a single word.

Today I dragged myself back to the keyboard, gritting my teeth to carry on. But… the new scene I grudgingly crow-barred in has begun to settle in and find its feet. New details occurred to me, fleshing out the characters in a similar way to all those lovely first draft passages I had to cut.

It is hard taking the knife to good words, but they have to serve the story, or else they’re pointless. Yesterdays and todays new words will need further polishing, but I know the story will be much stronger by the time I’ve finished. And that makes me happy.

What’s the hardest passage you ever had to cut? And did you ever regret it, or even put it back in later? I’m betting not.