I am taking time out from my busy schedule today to announce that I won’t be writing a blog post because I am doing the rewrite of Angel of Fire. Oh wait– I am writing a blog post, in the grand tradition of writers skiving off work everywhere.
Right now I am just going through Angel tightening things up. I wrote an action-packed, ork-stomping prologue that frames the story and now I am working my way through the manuscript, taking out some scenes, tightening up others and adding new ones where they are needed to clarify the action. I am doing this in response to the comments of my esteemed editor Nick Kyme and in line with my own feelings, having had a short break from the actual writing over the past few weeks.
I’ve mentioned the importance of such breaks before. They are very useful. They give you a bit of distance from the manuscript and let you come at it fresh. (An editor’s bracing comments tend to have much the same effect. Other people see things that you won’t because you are standing too close.) By taking a break you are effectively putting yourself in the position of another person, one a few weeks older and not quite so involved in the actual creative process.
I don’t know about you but I tend to find editing and rewriting a very different thing from writing first drafts. First drafts are all a frenzied attempt to wrestle the words and images in my head on to paper. I usually try to keep up my momentum and keep the story rolling forward come what may. I want to get to the end and see how things turn out and, of course, reassure myself that I can actually get to the end. There are times when you are in the belly of the beast when that feels like it is never coming. You would think that after 20+ novels, I would know this but it never really changes. There are often the same strains and doubts. Experience tells you that you’ve been here before, but your emotions say something different…
Once the first draft is done, I go through the manuscript and tidy things up to the best of my ability. I look for the logical holes, I try and make sure everything makes sense. I do this in Scrivener. After that I usually go through a print-out because somehow that makes it more real and I notice different things when I am sitting on the sofa with a pen in my hand. Once that’s done, I’ll input the changes and while I am doing that try and tighten up the manuscript some more. Eventually, usually when there is a hard and fast deadline smacking me in the face, I will let the thing go and send it in to Black Library then I take time off or I go and write something else, which is what I have been doing recently.
Once the manuscript comes back from editing, it feels different. For one thing, there are comments in it. These can be both positive and negative and the emotional impact is…interesting. Nobody likes to be told their work is less than perfect. Well, I don’t. Sadly, after the intervening cooling-off period, logic and reason and my own two eyes usually let me know that it is, in fact, the case. And, if I am honest, editorial comments often point out to me the flaws that I have come to realise were there anyway. They also tend to point out more than a few that I didn’t. In the case of Black Library there is usually a chat on Skype where Nick and I talk through the problems and toss back and forth solutions.
I have to say in the case of Angel of Fire, this was fantastically productive, leading to the introduction of one or two developments which took me by surprise but were actually oddly logical. At times like this I can believe Steven King’s hypothesis that a writer is like an palaeontologist uncovering the fossil outline of the story from the rock in which it is already buried. (Usually I see myself as more like a carpenter building the framework of a wooden house.) To incorporate these developments, which will have ramifications throughout the trilogy, I need to do a little more rewriting than usual but I am happy to do so. I was going to introduce an Imperial Assassin in Book Two of the trilogy anyway, but these developments allowed her to sneak into Book One in an entirely logical way. Stealthy creatures Assassins, they can even infiltrate your books.
Anyway, to return to the process of rewriting, once I get the manuscript, I usually go through it again, implementing the minor changes indicated by the comments, such as removing word repetitions and making sure the gear is correct, etc, and usually making a few of my own as well. While I am doing this, I am thinking about the big picture changes that need to be implemented and how I will do them. Making the minor changes gives me a chance to re-familiarise myself with the manuscript in depth as I do so.
At the moment I am doing the big picture stuff, altering some scenes, making changes to the presentation of characters, adding new scenes to shed light on events, making alterations to fit in with the framing device established in the prologue and generally adding a coat of polish to the whole thing. And if you will excuse me, I had better get back to that now!