My novel, that is. The rough draft of the manuscript is done.
In total, it is just over 75,000 words and I have found myself in uncharted territory–for me at least.
This is the fourth novel I’ve finished which sounds totally crazy because like…wow. I’m awesome. But the thing was, with all of my other novels, once I finished, I tucked them away never to be seen by anyone ever again because they’re terrible. That’s not me being a self depreciating artist or anything either, it’s just true. I’m not the kind of girl who says she’s fat because she’s looking for attention and assurance that she really isn’t fat; if I am saying so, it’s because to me, it’s that: a fact. Much like the colour of the sky. My percieving myself as fat has very little impact on my self worth; if I’m bringing it up, it’s likely a necessary prelude to discussing weight loss/clothing/something related. I’m like that with my writing too. I know my first three novels are shit. It is simply a fact.
Don’t get me wrong though, despite their being shit, I absolutely love them in a far away won’t-read-you-ever-because-I-don’t-want-to-cringe-for-200-pages kind of way. Without them, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today where I have this manuscript that is actually worth reading. It’s through my bad novels, that I got to this potentially good one. However, this is where the terrifying uncharted territory comes in. With my three previous trainwrecks, I’ve never edited them because, well, I’ve never had to bother. I knew there was no point because they weren’t worth it. But this one is.
So what does my lack of experience editing manuscripts mean for this novel?
Well class, it means that I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.
There’s probably a zillion books on how to write fiction, but I have come across very few that actually tell you how to edit the damn thing when you’re done writing.
I guess when I think about it though, the how to write fiction tips probably apply to the editing process as well, you know, making sure your characters are well rounded, having a detailed setting, making the plot follow a logical progression, yadda, yadda. I guess the problem I’m having with all of that is while I’ve been writing the manuscript, I’ve just been making this huge mess with sloppy sentence structure, cliches, repeating words, vague settings etc. and just motoring on towards the end. Finishing it has been my only goal for years. Now that the mess making has come to a conclusion, I’m suddenly stuck with this new and unfamiliar goal: I need to work what I’ve written into a readable novel worth publishing. It’s time to clean it up, and I feel like I’m standing in the wreckage of a tornado with only a little broom and dustpan.
The one bit of advice that I have come across repeatedly in my little oh-my-god-how-do-I-make-this-a-good-novel panic is that Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and this blog I found all seem to share the same idea: once the rough draft is done, take a step away from it.
So that’s what I’m doing (begrudgingly). I am finising Bird By Bird by the aforementioned Lamott and a mystery novel by Sue Grafton. I’m not allowed to touch it until I’m done both. Okay, maybe a little bit of touching, but only like heavy petting.
After that, my plan is to start with the setting (the prospect of working on character terrifies me) via researching tree/plant/flower types for the weather of my island, names of wallpaper/paint colours, and begin colouring all the little edges of my scenery that I’ve left blank. Next, I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe cry a bit, become fascinated with the trees I just researched, become a biologist and hide from the behemoth task of editing forever. Sounds about right.