After months of writing and editing, hunched over my computer with the devil-may-care attitude of someone who is consciously disregarding their spasming neck, I have finished my latest book. My days are no longer spent muttering dialogue under my breath or boring my closest friends and family on the latest plot kink I have worked out. The end came with a swell of jubilation. A few wonderful, respected agents are reading the full manuscript, and my readers are saying everything I hoped they would say about the new version.
And yet, I find myself feeling empty. I think this is because I have reached a new milestone in my journey as a writer. For the first time, I know that I have done my very best.
I always have had an instinct for writing. Getting the words down and formulating a story has never been a struggle for me. Arguably, I got the words down and wrote the story too fast. I was one of those young writers that trusted in the purity of what I had written, the spirit that breathed them into life. Hungry for recognition, I sent short stories and novels out into the great unknown to be assessed. I loved the essence of the stories, but I refused to believe that others could not see what existed so clearly in my mind.
So, in this latest book, I learnt my greatest lesson as a writer. To edit, edit, edit. I started off shakily, only editing parts of the novel that were easy or comfortable to change. There were certain parts of the book I scanned through quickly - only after a month or two away from the book did I realise that this was my instinct telling me to rework these passages altogether, no matter what havoc it created with my plot.
Desperate to polish the manuscript, I tried a new editing style. I read the book start to finish, forbidding myself to make any line edits. I wrote myself little notes as a went along. By giving myself to read my book at the pace of a reader, I immediately picked up on the inconsistencies in pacing and contradictions in my characters. In fact, in the very first chapter, my protagonist said one line of dialogue that, when changed, made her character arc stronger and clearer. I know I'm getting technical here, so the essence (and great lesson) is this: read your book as an honest reader, and then edit after that.
As a result, I was brutally honest with myself and changed the book drastically. By the time I wrote the ending, I felt that it had become all it was meant to be.
I used to see editing as nit-picking, a waste of precious time in the rush to be published. It was something to be tolerated and done as quickly as possible. Now I see it as a mark of respect for my readers. Editing takes you outside yourself and asks you to consider exactly what you are writing, why you are writing it and who for.
I remember years ago I was trying to find a job in London. I moaned to a friend that I couldn't find anything no matter how hard I tried. She took a sip of her coffee and simply said, "Try harder." The same goes for editing. If your story isn't being met with the enthusiasm you hoped for, pour yourself some tea, get an ergonomically sound chair (for heaven's sake) and open that damn document again. And edit harder.