Friday, 29 April 2011

All About Editing - Joanne Hall

Do you love editing, or hate it, or somewhere in the middle?

That depends what stage the editing process is at! I usually write first drafts by hand, then type them up, so by the time a story on novel reaches the computer, I’m already on the second draft, and editing as I go. That’s my favourite stage of writing. It’s like the first draft is a formless lump of clay, and the second draft shapes it into something that actually resembles a real plot. There’s where all the character development and description comes in, and where the weird little tangents emerge that make writing a novel so exciting.

Once that’s done, the plot is set and all that’s left is polishing, that’s when I find editing becomes a chore. It has to be done to smooth out the rough edges, but it also means mercilessly exposing and pruning all the bits that aren’t very good, or that got skipped over because they were hard to write. It’s a real dent to the confidence to discover a paragraph that you thought was good is, in the cold light of scrutiny, complete rubbish. This is also the stage where you have to “kill your darlings” – that scene that was so much fun to write suddenly adds nothing to the plot, so out it goes!

The one stage of editing I really hate is the final copy-edits before a book goes to print. They’re time consuming, take great concentration, and by that stage I’m usually on to writing another book, and I’m so sick of reading and re-reading this one that by the time the final copy-edit is done, I never want to read it again! Also, that’s the stage where the only changes you can make are small cosmetic ones, so you’re stuck with the plot you’re so bored of reading. But it’s all worth it when you finally have a well-edited book in your hands.

Do you edit as you go? Or do you start only after the first draft?

Because I do my first draft by hand, my notebooks are full of crossings out and marginalia, usually along the lines of “THIS BIT GOES EARLIER” or “RESEARCH!” (that one crops up a lot!) As long as I’ve made a note of which bits need editing as I write them, that seems to be enough and I can fix things on the second draft. The initial writing is done very fast. I find editing as I write by hand takes my attention away from what I’m writing, so I save the bulk of the editing for the second draft. After that, unless there are any glaring problems, most of the rest of the editing is just tweaking what I already have, and cutting out the waffle. I tend to over-write, so there’s always plenty of waffle to trim!

Do you have a definite method for editing? If so, would you like to share something from it?

I’m not sure I have a “definite method”. It varies from book to book, and there are as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, so what works for me may not work for someone else. The two things I can recommend that always work for me are not to get so hung up on getting the first page/paragraph/chapter perfect that you never get beyond that point. Get it written first, then get it right. Getting it right is what drafts are for, but you can’t edit a blank page.
The second thing is not to try and edit when you’re tired, because you will miss things. Try to come to it with, if not a fresh brain, then at least a strong cup of coffee on hand!

Any tips you've learned from your experience?

Always try and persuade a second pair of eyes to look through your writing, to pick up things you might have missed. Sometimes you can get too close to what you’re writing, but a fresh reader will be able to spot where you can make changes and make suggestions for improvements.

Anything else you would like to add - pet peeves, things that make you want to pull your hair out (editing related), joys and wonders of the process?

Pet peeve – that it doesn’t matter how many times you read through a story, or how many other people read through it, there will inevitably be a glaring 
typo at the bottom of page 46 that, after it’s published and too late to do anything about it, every single reader will not only notice, but take great delight in pointing out to you!

I know some writers hate editing, but I really enjoy the process of taking a shapeless, rambling story and turning it into something I can be proud of, and something I would be willing to share with other people. It’s very exciting when a story starts to take shape and fall into place. It’s even more exciting when you get your hands on the finished, polished product!

Learn more about Joanne at her website:


  1. Great post Joanne,

    'The first draft is a formless lump of clay, and the second draft shapes it into something that actually resembles a real plot.' I love that, and it's so true that an extra pair of eyes can spot things you missed simply because you're too into the story.

    Thanks! :)

  2. Thanks, Michela, hope it was helpful!

  3. Joey,

    It was definitely helpful. When I first started writing, everyone always kept saying, if you finish a full draft, you can do it. I find finishing a draft is easy enough. If I can edit a book to submission level, I can do it. It's the shaping fragments of story into a book that takes the work. So all the tips help :-)

  4. Great post--and the cover for The Feline Queen is awesome!