Writing Update No. 2

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I’ve been writing a book. (If you missed that post and want to check it out now, I’ll link it here.) Here’s how it’s been going since then:

Editing is drudgery.

Last time, I mentioned that I don’t write in strict chronological order. The book will be in chronological order, but I write different sections based on what I’m in the mood to work on. I decided for the new year, though, to start from the beginning, go all the way through, and see what I’ve got. I planned to work on the incomplete parts and the parts that needed editing along the way so that by the time I got to the end I would more or less only have editing left. So far, I’ve gotten through the first two sections, and then gone back through the first again. The beginning, I feel, is the strongest point of my book right now. I wanted this run-through to clean up the first section, to make some final changes, and send that bit along to a couple of trusted second-opinions so that I’d have extra incentive to keep working hard at it and come up with a complete draft.

Progress: 90% satisfied with the first section. 70% satisfied with the second.

My biggest change in editing the first two sections has been cementing the format. This is something I’ll continue to match now throughout the book, but I’ve finally worked out a good system. When I started writing my book, I divided it into 9 sections for my own convenience–I wanted to be able to navigate different parts of the narration without having to load and sort through one giant document every time I was looking for one specific part. These sections are too big to be chapters, but they’re pretty complete in themselves and separate from each other, so in the final product these will be labeled as “Part I, Part II,” etc. They will also have names. Inside these parts, the narration is further divided into chunks that I have begun labeling as numbered (but unnamed) chapters. Inside these chapters, the narration is further divided into perspective shifts.

I’m following three main characters in this story, all through third person narration, but a close enough narration to reveal each character’s thoughts, one at a time. At first I was using one stream of narration with no division, and it focused primarily on broad observations and then dipped into the different characters’ thoughts when that was necessary, with no break in the narration; but I think the reader can connect better to the characters by focusing on one at a time. I’ve been making little tweaks to even that out. The character switches within chapters will not be numbered or labeled in any way, they’ll simply have one empty line break between characters, usually without even a scene shift. These are pretty smooth transitions, but the space calls attention to the fact that something is changing. Shifts between chapters usually switch scenes, and some of them are short newspaper articles. All of the chapters are relatively short, and they all drive toward the main theme of the part. This has been my largest task in going back through my book so far.

My second point, of course, has been editing what’s already written, and either adding or making a note to add any pieces that I know I need but haven’t written yet. I wanted to start from the beginning and fill out everything that was missing, smooth every part, every chapter, down to the last sentence, but I’ve decided to save some small edits that I’m just not in the mood for until my next run-through after I’ve gotten all the content. I changed my mind about that because editing is tough and I can’t do it all at once. Editing is the most annoying and satisfying part of writing, for me. I can tell when it seems a sentence just isn’t working, but sometimes it takes so long to say the right things in the right way. It’s indescribably rewarding to find the right wording and look back through a section that feels really complete, as good as I’ll ever be able to make it, but it’s so difficult to reach that point sometimes. I was doing a great job of pushing through and making a “final” version of the first section (about 11,000 words total), but then somewhere in the middle I was sick of those small edits. I hit one middle chapter that had the right content, but it just wasn’t exciting enough to read. I want every chapter to have a spark. I just couldn’t find all the sparks this month, so I read the section to keep its content in mind moving forward, but made a note to come back and edit that bit later. Luckily, as I moved forward, I realized it wasn’t the whole second half of the part that had that problem, it was only the one piece in the middle. At this point, I’m very happy with the first part, all but that one chapter that’ll still need some time-consuming edits. That’s on the back-burner for now.

You may have noticed I mentioned going through the first section twice. See, the first time through, I thought I was pretty satisfied with this part already and only needed a content refresher. But as I got past it, I found a missing spark. I had a great idea for how to start it off and let the reader into the characters’ heads and lives so much quicker; as I went back to the very beginning to rework the opening scene, I decided to keep going in the same vein and add in some small details that would hark back to that scene, to keep the whole part cohesive. I got into a great editing mood and worked hard at fixing things on the smaller level, and was going good with that then until I found that awkward middle chapter. I did start reworking it, but I couldn’t quite finish this time around. Hence the 90% satisfaction with the first part.

The second part is where I’m at now. The first couple chapters of this part (which is about 10,500 words total) is the area that needs the most work, so it’s been slow slogging through that. I’m not so much in the mood for working on those scenes, but I was doing such productive editing and I did want to work through in chronological order, so I’ve been fixing the formatting and pushing through. Still, it’ll need some more work, hence the 70% satisfaction level.

I want it to be perfect, and perfection is more than plot.

Is there such a thing as an editing slump? This week I feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, looking down at it.

I’m still happy with my plan, and I feel like I’ve made some solid progress, but editing… it’s drudgery.

My goal for the next two weeks: I want to keep going with the second part until I’m up to at least 90% satisfaction (I wish there was a less subjective way to measure that, but basically I just want to feel pretty good about where it’s at, even if there’s a spot or two that’s tough that I make a note to come back to). By the time I share my next update, I want to be at least at this same point in the third part. After that, I know there are more gaps where I’ll need to do some actual writing, so I’m hoping having that on the horizon will help me power through some more edits in the meantime.

Are any of you struggling through an awesome book draft?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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