The thing about writing is…

…if you’re serious about wanting to be published, at some point, you’re going to reach the stage when you need to edit. No, wait a second…

*arranges thoughts a bit*

If you’re serious about wanting to be published, you’re going to reach the stage when you need to edit… again.

And if you’re like many other writers, it’s likely that you’ll have more than one project on the go at once. This may be because you want to have something to turn to if (when) you get bored, or it may be because you’ve got so many ideas floating around in your head that you find it impossible to stick to just one thing. There may be any number of reasons for juggling several balls at once, and every one of those reasons is valid. I’ll tell you how it is for me at the moment.

Years ago, I wrote a book based on my feelings about what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and on a second edit, it was better, and on another edit, after several life changes, it morphed into something else, while still keeping the main theme going, which was freedom of speech and the press, and the right to say whatever you think without being arrested and thrown inside for it. When the book was in its early stages, I emailed Xinran at her charity, The Mothers’ Bridge of Love, to ask if she would mind reading over a couple of chapters for me to see if I was heading in the right direction, in the opinion of a Chinese lady, and I was more than surprised when one of her volunteers emailed me back almost by return to say Xinran would like to meet me and talk about it. We’ve been in touch ever since, we’ve met up a few more times and I’m honoured to consider such a wonderful person my friend. She’s helped me with the book and given me information about China that is hard to find elsewhere, and I’ll always be grateful for her insights.

This means I need to go back to the book and edit it again, so that it’s as good as it can be… for her. For Xinran, who has given up her time for me and has never asked for anything in return. The book, then, will be my gift to her, my thanks for the hand of friendship she’s been generous enough to extend to me, as well as my way of remembering the victims of that terrible night in Beijing.

At the same time, I’ve written another one, the book, I feel, I have been meant to write for years (it went through another incarnation and a couple of rewrites before I scrapped it all, changed the viewpoint character and switched from third- to first-person narrative, which makes what my character says deliciously unreliable, as we only get her side of things – who knows whether what she’s saying is the absolute truth?). I’ve now edited it a couple of times, got some valuable feedback from friends, and know, if ever it gets made into a film or TV drama, who I’d like to play a particular part (and the actor in question knows this, and is following me on Twitter). So again, another edit is needed before I feel comfortable enough to send it to an agent (and again, I have someone in mind, as another friend of mine has recommended him as someone I might like to try).

In the meantime, my significant other and I have been working on a novel together (and he’s also writing his own), for which we’ve created a huge world and have been having a lot of fun writing. On my birthday a couple of years back, we were laughing so hard that it took at least twice as long as it ought to have for us to write a scene, and we had a midnight deadline as it was NaNoWriMo, so there was extra pressure to get the word count in before the clock struck 12. For that project, we’ve got around 177,500 words (so far), plus he’s writing a spin-off and so am I, and the whole thing is turning into a bit of a monster.

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ve been rearranging scenes for the collaborative project, as it’s so huge that it’s a bit of a mess, though the story is developing in the right direction – hell, we’ve even managed to stick to much of what we originally planned for it, which is a fucking miracle. I’ve used Scapple for colour codes and put notes underneath each other and into chapters so we can see what needs to be put somewhere else – we haven’t written everything in order, though we know more or less what goes where – and since I’ve done that, it’s become clear that things need to be moved around again, to take into consideration things like pace and structure, and which characters are getting the most attention at any one time. We need balance, and sometimes it needs to be tipped one way or the other to make the narrative more cohesive.

I need at least one more edit on my other novel, and more than one (undoubtedly) on my China novel, so there’s a lot still to do. It gets annoying when people write books, give them a cursory glance (judging by the quality of the edit, or obvious lack thereof), then publish them on Amazon and expect people to read them. Maybe some people do, and there’ll be dozens, if not hundreds of books published this way that are worth your time and effort. One of the instructors at my kung fu club publishes this way, and what he publishes is worthwhile (and proofread by yours truly, because he’s not naive enough to think he can edit his own work himself). But much (most) of what’s online is pure dross, and it annoys me not because people are writing it (everyone starts off writing dross), but because they have the arrogance to think that this is all it takes – have an idea, write it down, publish it. Let me tell you, it takes a lot more than that. I think I was about six (I have six in mind, for some reason, and I know I was in infants’ school) when I first learnt that writers write the same book, not only more than once but sometimes several times, before they consider it finished. It always fascinated me, and from then on, I wanted to be a writer, even though it was years before I started writing a novel. (It was a great story, but I had a lot to learn about the actual writing process, and it would never get published in a million years. It was going to take a lot more practice before I even began to see progress, and I saw it when I realised how badly written that first book was.)

It goes without saying that all of this is mixed in with a lot of reading. A great deal of reading. Mostly fiction, though I read a lot of non-fiction, as well, and both can teach me something, in different ways. I’ve given up on a few books – there was just no point at all in persevering with something that I was fed up with, for whatever reason. Reading is part of the writing process, but it’s also something I’ve always done for pleasure – if reading a book becomes a chore, I tend to give up way before I reach the end, and read something else instead, something that I consider to be worthy of my time. This has also taught me how to keep up the narrative tension in my own writing. I don’t want readers to give up, I want them to turn the next page, and the next, and be reading through the night, as I often am myself if the book is gripping me (I’m looking at you, Joanne Harris *gives the side-eye accusingly*). That’s not always as easy to achieve as I’d like it to be, but that’s also part of the fun of it. The frustration, the hair-ripping, the head-desking, the swearing, is all part of what writing a novel is about. Because you have to get it right. And if you get it right, you might – might – end up with a publishing contract.

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