Living and editing in the time of Covid-19

sunset over hills

I wanted to write a blog post that entertained or meant something, but it feels wrong to be funny when the world is so grim, and currently my insights are as scattered as my concentration. So you get a stream of consciousness about my current editing strife instead. Sorry about that.

Recently I looked back at my record of word counts, and discovered I started writing my WIP in December 2015. I finished the first draft in March 2016, and I’ve been editing ever since. During that time I’ve changed the story substantially, learned a lot, and written enough scenes for five books.

Okay, probably not five. But I have scrapped and replaced a lot.

I even sent the story to beta readers once. The feedback? Parts were good, but what the main character was doing for most of the book had nothing to do with the main quest.

Problem.

I’ve pulled the whole book apart and put it back together again. I’ve solved some problems and introduced others.

And along the way I’ve discovered some truths. In case they’re helpful for you, or you enjoy laughing at my pain, here they are.

If a scene is a nightmare to write, it is terrible, unnecessary, or both

My word count record tells me that some days first drafting I wrote 4000 words. Most days I didn’t.

Some scenes were exciting and fun to write. Others were like trying to remove my own appendix with broken glass.

broken glass

Guess which got cut in the next round of editing.

In 99% of cases when I find a scene agonising to write, it’s because it doesn’t make sense or shouldn’t be a scene. In the other 1% of cases, it’s because I’m trying to write during the apocalypse and my focus is shredded.

That line I love and saved–it doesn’t fit where I’ve crammed it into a different scene

And it never will.

Like everyone, occasionally I write a line I love so much that I want to dress it in a tux and take it to formal. And when the scene a beloved line is in gets cut, I’ll do anything to save it.

Including excising the line and stitching it into a different scene.

The problem I’ve discovered when I reread the new scene is that the line never fits. It was born in one ecosystem, and it can’t thrive in another.

It must die.

River lined by trees
A line works only in the ecosystem in which it was conceived.

For your reading pleasure, here are two I cut that won’t sound as good out of context (or so I’ll tell myself when you point out you hate them).

He felt as if heโ€™d stepped on something dead and couldnโ€™t shake it from his foot.

Hermaen downed his ale and left as dusk was filling the alleys with shadows. A brisk wind swept up the city streets and ruffled his soul.

MC’s companion does have a personality, and it’s not what I thought

One major character, a companion of the main character, has given me no end of difficulty.

I built him from the backstory up several times, but I could never quite hear his voice or figure out what he wanted.

I even changed his name once, which I almost never do.

Maybe he was getting revenge. In an early draft he was going to be eaten by a dragon right at the start.

Then in draft nine I finally discovered who he was and what he wanted.

It wasn’t what I thought and it’s going to mean even more rewriting, but I’m okay with that. I grateful he finally let me know him. I don’t hold a grudge at all, honest. There’s no chance I’m going to kill him off in the sequel.

Scenes whose purpose is “main character talks to people and finds out about X” never work

I should know this, and yet I still try to write such scenes.

Just stop it.

My writing has improved as I’ve gone along

Obviously I’m chuffed that my writing is improving–it would suck if my writing were getting worse.

But it does create a problem: the scenes I wrote recently are better than the ones I wrote early on. And that means all the old scenes need to be rewritten.

No, that’s not smoke coming out my ears. It’s excitement dust. What do you mean that’s not a thing?

Conversations assembled like Frankenstein’s monster read like Frankenstein’s monster

My WIP has (I hope) a plot, and certain conversations are essential to that plot. Other conversations happen by accident when I start writing and get carried away.

From this glorious early draft mess, I’ve cut and pasted, stitched and sutured. And in places I’ve ended up with Frankenstein’s monster.

Frankenstein's monster running through a dark forest
Mind the fallen branch. Your leg is not that firmly attached.

Real conversations have a flow to them that doesn’t involve big black stitches. While the stitches still show, I’m not done editing.

It’s not all doom and gloom

I read some scenes and can’t believe how much I love my story. At their best, my characters are flawed and spectacular, their problems subtle and world-shattering.

Now I just need to keep editing until I feel that way every scene I read.

I hope you’re keeping safe in your little fragment of the world.

What have you noticed as you edited? Am I the only one who’s had these problems?

Hear more from me, and be the first to know when my WIP is finally ready to be introduced to the world.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

14 thoughts on “Living and editing in the time of Covid-19”

  1. Brilliant blog! I found myself nodding along … yup, done that … that too … and that one …

    One thing that helps me is to put a WIP down when I’ve got to the end of a major edit. Then go away and do something else. Write a short story or three. Start the next book. Anything to get me away from the WIP. We all go word-blind sometimes and most often when we’ve been working on the same thing for a long time. Taking time off to refocus and come back later … that has worked for me.

    1. Thank you. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this.

      I totally agree on getting away for a while after finishing a draft. I try for at least a month. This time my plan is to draft the sequel while this one sits in a drawer. Having said that, there are a number of problems with this one that I can see now, so I’m going to try to fix them first.

  2. The editorial road is tough – especially for epic fantasy :s well done for trying it. I’m not brave enough yet so I’m writing heroic, much less complicated.

    I’ve heard of a trick though. An ancient technique passed from master to student down generations.

    “Have you tried adding more dragons?”

    1. No argument that epic fantasy is a nightmare to edit. Though I tend to think what I write is more high fantasy than epic fantasy–the scope is not so broad, thankfully, because I don’t think I’ve developed the skills yet to handle that.

      Omg, I think you’ve got it! More dragons! That is definitely always the solution.

      *goes off to add more dragons, the new dragons get into a fight with the old dragons, story ensues*

  3. I have the same problem with lines I love. I’m still stubbornly clinging to one of them, despite knowing it’ll probably be cut. You have to use ‘ruffled his soul’ somewhere though, I love it ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Haha, I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this problem. Thanks, I love “ruffled his soul” too, and it just fit so perfectly in the scene I had to cut. Maybe it will find another life in the sequel.

  4. I love your orphaned lines. Somewhere, someday, you’ll find a place to insert some soul-ruffling. I am embarking even now on a major revision of a novel I thought was pretty close to kind of perhaps somewhere in the realm of done, until I sent it to a well-respected editor for a thorough critique. Now I feel like I’m trying to re-weave a tapestry from the center outwards while all the threads at the edges unravel. Cheers to you and me for soldiering on!

    1. Thank you. That’s the joy of orphaned lines – they’re wonderful, they just don’t fit.

      I know that feeling. I had it after getting feedback from my betas. The story was fairly polished before that – fifth draft – but now story threads are dangling and flapping all over the place. But we can do it. We have superior weaving skills, and in the end our tapestries will emerge beautiful and whole, fully capable of hiding a dozen skulking assassins. (That’s what tapestries are for, right?)

  5. Yes…just yes. The first story I ever completed took about seven years. And in the end, I turned the prologue into book 1 and now have to rethink the rest of the story. But that was my apprenticeship. The next story was a trilogy and only took four years…

    Everyone has a different process, and half of my apprenticeship was wasted trying to ‘just keep writing’. That was what the gurus said. Well, that advice may work for some writers, but it didn’t work for me. I’d keep writing until I wrote myself into a corner. Then I’d spend the next six months with writer’s block. Now I know better. When I can’t get a scene to work no matter how hard I try, I know my subconscious is trying to tell me that something is wrong. Then it’s tools down and /think/. Is it the character? Would he/she really do ‘that’? Is ‘that’ really where the story is going?

    Ahem. These days I’ve learned to trust my subconscious, even if it means doing a complete rethink about the story. Time consuming but it works for me.

    Apologies for the length of this reply but your post really did resonate! Okay, one more thing. My writing has been a lot smoother since I stopped using Word, because Word forces you to write in a linear fashion. And that means fillers to get from point A to point D where there’s a nice, clear scene. I discovered to my cost, that filler really does equal fudge, and fudge almost always equals writer’s block for me.

    For the last few years I’ve been using a dedicated writing package that automatically allows me to write in scenes and chapters – independent scenes and chapters. Thus, if I can see one scene very clearly, I can write it up, even if it’s not meant to happen until much later in the story. I don’t have to write ‘filler’ to get there. There are a number of writing packages out there and they are not expensive. I’d really, really recommend getting one. Cheers. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

      Yes! My subconscious is really smart. It knows when something’s wrong a long time before my conscious mind does. I am learning to listen to it, though I don’t always know what to do when it thinks something is wrong. But one step at a time.

      You’re right about Word being rubbish for writing novels. I use Scrivener now and it works really well for me. Part of my problem with Word was that it took forever to load long documents, but I also love the flexibility Scrivener gives you to structure your document, write out of order, and change the order of scenes once you’ve written them. I don’t tend to write hugely out of order because the scene I had in mind never works once I write everything that comes before it, but I do take advantage of the easy ability to reorder scenes. I just wish I’d known about it sooner!

  6. I have a list of “problem words” that I search and destroy. And I have had instances where I’ve written the same scene twice (or revised it back in twice, but in two different places. I’m never exactly sure.)
    But my all-time favorite **ooops** was when a beta reader of mine (who happens to be a real-life medical doctor, btw) had to remind me that my character needed to be able to BREATHE. I had, however, remembered to have her restrained so she didn’t blow out into space when the room she was in depressurized. Somehow, it just didn’t occur to me that the oxygen was leaving the room, too.

    1. Haha, yes! I’ve put the same event back in twice, and when I finally reread the story I was so confused. Glad I’m not the only one. ๐Ÿ™‚

      That’s hilarious. At least I never inadvertently suffocated any of my characters. That I’ve discovered yet.

  7. I can honestly say that writing a first draft is only about 10-15% of the process for me. Yeah. I know. Kind of depressing.

    Part of it is because I am a pantser. My second drat ALWAYS takes at least twice as long as the first as the second has to make sense, be coherent, etc.

    But take heart! Each book gets easier. I didn’t believe that either when people told me, but I am working on a draft of my sixth book. It will take around 6-7 drafts. WAY better than the 20+ drafts of my first book ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I think 10-15% would be generous for me. And I don’t even have the excuse of being a pantser. My excuse is that I’m learning. I’m sure the next book will take less editing because my plan will make more sense.

      It only takes you 6-7 drafts now?! Impressive!

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