Tuesday 17 August 2021

Notes from an editing writer - by Tracy Darnton

I've just sent my latest draft back to my editor. I’ve surfaced back into the world, with time to clean up the house and write this blog. 

Writers are often asked how you know when you've done enough to send out a draft - whether back to an editor, or out on submission, or to a competition. So here's my process...

I've been doing structural edits on a novel - the first stage of edits once an editor from the publisher has looked at it. So, in my case, it's been about answering every comment in track changes, and dealing with every point in the six page edit letter. Once that's done and agonized over, with much tea and biscuits consumed, tears shed and neglect of everything else in my life, I move on to final cabin checks. 

Everyone will have their own list of these - but mine include the search and destroy (or Find and Replace on Word) of my writing tics and bad habits. 


This is my single worst habit and I have to cull at least a third of them. See the first sentence of this blog if you don’t believe me.

way too much smiling and laughing going on 👄👄

I often use this (lazily) to break up dialogue but on closer review realise I've shoved it in at times when no one would actually laugh or smile. And I can’t bring myself to use chortle, chuckle or snorting even though they may be a better description of what I’m trying to say. He smiled. She smiled. Enough already. I write YA thrillers, remember.


I make sure I haven't incessantly skipped a beat, pounded, beat faster, or even stopped, oodles of hearts. 

lips 🗢

Too much biting and chewing of lips. Ouch.

golly gosh and bloomin' heck 👎

Ah, *#!! - the swear word search. I don't censor myself as I get the drafts down but at this stage I search for each swear word, do a tally and think about the voice of each character and the balance and tone of the book. I'm aware that my books usually have a 13+ guide and are read by year 7s as well as readers in their twenties and beyond. 

I realise it’s not needed 

I prefer writing in first person but there are many traps for the unwary.
I double check that I haven’t used all the filter words that I know weaken the prose and are not necessary. Yes, it’s the I see/I look/I hear/I notice/I remember/I feel/I sense/I think/I know/I wonder/I realise check. Use these sparingly - the sentence is invariably better for axing them.


I use the back pages of my notebook as the style bible. This is where I jot down things a spell checker won’t usually help you with. I notice it often features hyphens. This book’s gems are A-levels, T-shirts, hide-and-seek.

The big questions in life are all here: noticeboard or notice board? How many aitches in shh? Should I capitalise labradors?

There’s usually a time-wasting opportunity to disappear down a rabbit hole or two; working out which dog breeds need upper case, for example. I do not need to know this and am wasting my precious time. Step away from the German shepherd, or is it German Shepherd?

Once I've fiddled with all those and more and have completed my cabin checks, I ask myself if I'm at the stage where I'm just moving deckchairs. (Yes, I’m mixing travel metaphors.)

If I’m just shuffling deckchairs (around the Titanic), I’m making very little difference to the quality of the story or prose, changing back things I'd already changed, forgetting that I'd already checked something despite my own style guide Bible, faffing with semi-colons.

In short, I’m wasting time and feeling bad about my book.

This stage can also be handily summarised as ‘I CANT STAND THE SIGHT OF MY *!#! BOOK ANY LONGER’

It’s time to move on and send the draft where it needs to go.

I chew on my lip and my heart skips a beat as I press the send button. I smile.


Tracy Darnton is the author of YA thrillers The Rules and The Truth About Lies. Her next thriller is being edited and she hopes to survive the process.

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

Yep. That all sounds familiar. Especially the culling of 'just.' And, in my case, 'very' too.