Friday, 13 June 2014

The Editing Cave Sheena Wilkinson

A cave.

That’s where I’ve been for the last month. That’s where this is coming from.

It’s dark in here, dank and drippy, and there’s a lot of tangled stuff around getting in the way, tripping me up and obscuring the cave mouth.
 The trouble with the tangle of wrack and weed is, some of it’s valuable and some of it’s rubbish, and it’s not easy to know the difference. Babies. Bathwater. The best thing is when you take hold of a long slimy tangly horrible thing; you don’t know how you’re ever going to untangle it and turn it into a thing of beauty and usefulness. Then you examine it closely. Surely that’s a … yes, it is! It’s a Completely Unnecessary Scene! No need to try to turn this bit of sow’s ear into a silk purse. Just – DELETE. 

Did I mention it’s an Editing Cave?*

All I have to keep me company in here is a novel. It’s a novel that’s already taken longer than my novels usually take. It’s a novel that I submitted in January, thinking it was – well, I hesitate to say perfect; but I thought it was done. Because otherwise I wouldn’t have submitted it. My editor, The Wise One, said it needed another draft. I was disappointed. Gutted, really, because in my mind I’d moved on to other stories, other characters.

Because of other commitments, and because she didn’t need it until the end of June (and, if I’m being honest, because I really couldn’t bear to look at it) I left the novel aside for three and a half months before I took it with me into the cave. I sat down prepared to be professional and detached. I don’t think I’m precious about my writing, but I’ll admit my attitude was more, well, they think it needs another draft and they’re the ones paying for it, so I’m just going to have to – I think suck it up an ugly expression, but that’s what I was thinking.

I didn’t expect to enjoy it. I didn't expect to think, Thank God for the chance to make this imperfect novel better. Thank God for the editing cave. 

The Wise One was right. The story was too complicated. It dragged in the middle – because I’d cut it from the original 105,000 words to 74,000 I thought it was tight as a drum, but now it’s at 67,000 I realise it was saggy. One of the narrators was wet. I’d thought her sensitive and realistic and a refreshing antidote to feisty. No, she just sounds like she’s 47, said The Wise (and Blunt) One. Another character was underused – I couldn’t big him up and lose words, so I killed him. Actually he was already dead: I just wiped him from history. Oh the power.


Cut cut cut. Change change change. 

I've just printed Draft 5. I know it's not done, but it's about a hundred times better than Draft 4. Next week I enter a deeper cave (The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig) for the final stretch. 

DRAFT 5 -- OF 6, I HOPE.

The cave mouth is getting a little wider; tiny shards of light are starting to find their way in. I think, if I keep going, there’ll be enough room for me to climb out through, after another week or so. With a much better novel.

* Thanks to Lee Weatherly, who talked about the writing cave in her own blog in January. 


Joan Lennon said...

Good luck with it - thank goodness for caves!

Penny Dolan said...

That's a lot of words left behind in the cave, Sheena, and probably a little easier with the gap between working and editing. I admire your sacrificial spirit and your sharp scissors. Wishing the book well, now it is out of the cave and free again.

Anonymous said...

I love this post - and I know that cave!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Who is the Wise One? I think that I need a Wise One of my own!

Maeve Friel said...

A week in Tyrone Guthrie will sort it - and you will have a wonderful time in the most beautiful writers' retreat in thw world. And the people you'll meet!