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The Diary of a PhD Student: Pulling my book apart...

Two posts in two weeks; it’s almost, almost, like I’m getting a better hang on this blogging thing. Or perhaps the more likely explanation is that I need somewhere to hang my editorial woes and, given that my characters have taken over much of my dining room at present – I’ll explain that part in a second – the internet seems like the best place to air this writerly laundry.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is coming in through the open doors behind me and I have a cup of tea sitting to the left of me. Over the weekend I completed a ‘tidy up’ of my book which has left me in a reasonably good position to start the next round of edits. On the topic of that next round of edits: I actually have a plan in place. A real, ordered, seems-totally-feasible-to-edit-a-book this way plan.
‘What’s the catch?’ you ask. I’ll let you know when I find it. For now, though, my dining room is quickly turning into a physical representation of what the inside of my head looks like – maybe that’s the catch? – as I set about hanging timelines, revised timelines, and character sketches on every flat and upright surface. It might sound a little odd but – and this is the real point of this post – for now, it is really working.

Last week I made up a chapter timeline of my book, as it stands in the first draft, where I plotted each chapter alongside a sentence or phrase to indicate what happens in that chapter. And holy cow, a lot of my chapters are doing the same things as each other. After some colour coding – oh yes, I’m going all out for this – where protagonist/mother conversations were highlighted in one colour, and protagonist/love interest conversations were highlighted in another, I realised that the whole damn book belongs more to these conversations than it does to anything else. Hello first point of editing!

That timeline now hangs in front of me – pinned to the back of my dining room door – as I write this post, and beneath it there sits a (tentative) attempt at a revised timeline for how I would like to shape the second draft. These two will soon be joined by character maps – but I’ll let you know how that actually works out in the next post. Already, though, these two timelines have allowed me to cut protagonist/mother conversations (an embarrassing FOURTEEN of these chapters appeared in my first draft – what the hell?) down to four – that’s right, I’ve managed to space save on ten chapters – in my proposal for a second draft. Alright, in practice it may not work out that way, but if nothing else this has at least opened my eyes to some serious issues from the first draft – which is surely the point of editing?

From here I’ll be printing a copy of my clean manuscript – again – and going through those fourteen chapters – and the other repetitive ones, of which there are many – to cannibalise their best bits and feed those into the re-drafted/re-written four chapters that will take up the book in the second draft, and I’ll do this again for the protagonist/love interest chapters, and probably for the protagonist/victim chapters as well – another element of the book getting a complete overhaul in the coming weeks.

When I pitched this idea to a friend yesterday he said, ‘Well, that’s not how I’d edit it, but okay.’

‘Okay, non-writer-friend,’ I said. ‘And how would you edit it?’

He paused, considered, and then said: ‘I have no idea.’

It might not work – specifically, it might not work for everyone – but it’s the first serious attempt I’m making at a real, working, editorial process for the book. Whether it will last until the end of this project, who’s to know? For now, though, my writing process has given way to an editing process – and there is, praise heavens, much more writing to be done after this – so we’re making a start, at least, brick by editorial brick. 


  1. Charley it's Henry - good job here! My blog got started and is mostly neglected. Keep it up!


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