Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Editing Is Hard Work

I am fairly certain I will spend as much time editing “Tishta the Crystal Orb” as writing it. Granted, the editing involves some writing and re-writing, but, damn, the rest of it is very time-consuming. I know part of the reason it is taking so long is that I am a novice. I learn from my experiences, and I hope, that by sharing, you can avoid some of the mistakes I have made along the way—mistake is too a harsh word—and make your editing more efficient.

While attending writing panels at conferences over the last few years, I have heard many views on best practices. Some writers advocate starting with an outline, while others write by the seat of their pants—“pantsers” was a word I learned. The latter style seemed to apply to me, so I did not worry about outlines.

When I started writing, it was because a story was demanding to get out. So, I wrote it. The words flowed freely from my brain through my fingers into my computer. It was very stimulating. All my free time was taken by this single endeavor. I would sometimes write until two or three in the morning, so I would not lose the story. I knew, all along, that I was writing an epic fantasy. I expected to write a trilogy. Our brains are conditioned to this—beginning, middle, conclusion. Star Wars is the prime example.

When I lifted my pen, so to speak, I realized the first book was an epic unto itself. I did not note the word count, but when Scrivener told me it was seven hundred fifty pages—and I had a major section in the middle to complete—I knew I had a problem. The missing part was meant to be that failure of the hero on his way to figuring out how to win. It seemed like an obvious place to rip the first book asunder. And, that is what I did. Then, I had a tetralogy.

In finishing the “new” first book, which is titled, “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” I was cautious to keep it more terse. I succeeded, and the first draft was around eighty-seven thousand words. This seemed appropriate for a first-time author. A fellow writer, Anne Bean, who has done editing, agreed to go through the book. It was a very exciting time for me.

While Anne read “Tishta,” I felt an intense desire to know more about Coltan, my vampire and main character. Somewhere along the line, I wrote bits of his back story, including scenes from childhood and adulthood before he was turned into a vampire. It gave me a good feel for what kind of man he was, and some of the things he had gone through. I had also written the longer story of how he met Criften and was “tamed” by the wizard. I knew some of the pieces of his life between his beginnings with Criften and where the story starts in “Tishta.” I wanted more. I needed to know the story of Coltan dealing with his distress at killing a lover—during a passionate sexual encounter with her, his bloodlust overcame him.

What began as a simple backstory, blossomed into a novella of around fifty-thousand words. A month later, I had five books. Tentatively titled “How to Tame a Vampire,” this book follows Coltan on his journey to Soldur, to meet the wizard, Eido, who specializes in swordsmanship, as well as psychology. In it, Eido guides him as he learns to separate his desire for blood from his sexual passion. In this story, I learned to write explicit sex scenes.

During the first year, when I was writing the originally planned first book, “Into the Wolf Dream”—which is the title of the now second book—I wrote major parts of the final book, “The Golden Key,” and parts of the middle book, “From the Detritus of Evil.” Because so much goes on in so many places—which all need to align for the Coming Battle at the end of the last book—I fill in pieces of these future books as I write. I have easily written over a million words for the complete story.

Because the whole story is so long, authors I know have been suggesting serializing it—breaking it into smaller pieces so I can publish more frequently. This may be the way to go with self-publishing, but right now, I will stay focused on publishing “Tishta” as full-fledged novel.

After Anne provided feedback that the story was fairly solid, but the characters, places and time flow needed elaboration, I let myself go. After nine months, “Tishta” grew to one hundred eighty-seven thousand words—more than double. I edited it down to one hundred seventy-two thousand.

In the fall of 2017, I called the second draft of “Tishta” complete. I gleefully sent it to several beta readers. The benefit I am receiving from their feedback is immeasurable, and it gives me the confidence to continue. I know the book is too long, and the pacing is too slow in places, especially in the first third, or maybe half. I was lucky to have a published author, Elizabeth Guizzetti, offer to read the story. In a flash—literally, in just over a week—she got back to me with feedback and inline comments. Whoot! Her feedback and criticisms helped me make some decisions about characters and plot. I love the support my local Seattle writing community offers me.

After taking a month to explore editing methods—to help me decide what to cut and where to cut it—I began adding a goal, a conflict summary, and an outcome, to each of my scenes. This was a suggestion from a writing channel on YouTube. It gave me fuel for thought, but did nothing to give me insight into my editing. This ended up being a waste of time.

The idea to document what each scene involves was encouraged by another published writer in my Seattle network, Anaea Lay. She suggested outlining the scenes in a spreadsheet, including a list of each beat—or action—as well as a list of characters and whatever other notes seem appropriate. At the beginning of December, I began using a spreadsheet to outline. It has been a month, and I have gone through the first three parts—as of today. This approach seems like a good one, and I am planning to outline the whole book this way—two more parts to go.

Beside the beats, I am keeping track of the word counts, which nights transpire, who the characters are, and notes about what, of importance, happens. Several things have come out this already. I have become more conscious of higher level story beats, that I hope will help me figure out which scenes are not holding their weight. I also notice who is missing from a scene, or a series of scenes, and think about how or if they should be included. I already kept track of the nights as a means of understanding distances and knowing the phase of the moon. Now, I can see how much time passes not only in each scene, but also in each chapter and part. I hopes this helps identify places where I can cut days out.

I started out thinking I should simply document what was currently written, with the intent of coming back on a later edit pass—after I know more—to decide how to trim things. As I went, I found I was critically reading each beat—so basically, each paragraph—anyway, and started to feel I was wasting time leaving things that I could see needed editing. I might regret this decision later, but I have been reviewing and changing things that I notice. The word count has fallen by about five percent. And, my writing style is continuing to evolve in the process. Since I did not start out editing as I went, the earlier in the book, the less editing took place. The ending of my book always feels more polished than the beginning.

So, that is what I have been up to since I last updated you all. I might not get back here again until I finish outlining the final two parts. I will compare what that tells me with a map I already drew—the map points out that too much travel takes place in the beginning, which was already a red flag—to find the places I should consider trimming and cutting.

Although this has been a long, and sometimes grueling, process, I find a certain satisfaction in editing. Once I get the process down, I believe the next books will be easier and quicker to finish. I will be using the spreadsheet to outline much sooner in the process. It’s all good. I’m learning.

Copyright ©2014-18 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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