Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Kill Your Darlings

How are you all? Here's a question for you - which part do you love most, the first draft or the editing? Maybe you've heard that phrase 'kill your darlings'? It's been something of a massacre here. Only as a writer is it acceptable to be weeping over your keyboard at 8.30am on a Tuesday morning. It is A Good Sign. Taking a step back, (that chip of ice Graham Greene said all writers have at their heart), that means the new scenes are working. With romantic histfic they are meant to move you - wouldn't be so great if you were aiming for comedy. Tears and heartbreak before breakfast - writing is a strange profession. Any other job and you'd be asked to take gardening leave ... 

So, after a month of editing I have a first draft of the new 'Perfume Garden'. Have any of you had experience of re-editing a completed book? Love to hear how you got on. It has been interesting, for me. Taking away the beginning and the ending of a novel (and around 15,000 words overall ...), is like knocking down the flying buttresses from a cathedral. The whole thing becomes unstable. It's been a lot like writing an entirely new book, (including the dreaded insomnia, the getting up at 2.22am - yes, I look at the clock each morning - to search blearily for a notepad to write down the new scenes, the dialogue flowing from your characters. Don't they ever sleep? Don't they know we have to be up at 5.30am every morning for the school run?). I've always felt that a novel is never 'done' you just stop at some point (imagining that the story runs on before and beyond), and the zest with which my characters have resurrected themselves and started yammering away at 2am just proves it. A novel is a contained thing, but a story is not, characters are not - look at fan fiction.  

'Writing is re-writing' is one of the single, truest phrases about the whole process of coming up with good work. If there's one thing I've learnt as a new writer it's that you can't please every reader - two people can read the same sentence and see, and feel different things. All you can do is rewrite until it is the best work you can do. Rewrite until it shines, for you. Then, if your editor, or reader, or agent suggests changes - take it with good grace, listen. If you agree, change it. If you're struggling with editing, I recommend reading, or re-reading, any of the great texts about writing. You never fail to learn something new. All that matters is that the work is the best it can be. When you're making the first big cuts and what was a pristine manuscript is hacked apart and in pieces *again*, editing can leave you feeling pretty vile and with a sense that the whole damn book is hopeless, and you really should have been a diplomat/architect/whatever other sensible profession your headmistress told you to pursue. With writing as in life, it's good to have a respected teacher guiding you through the basics: cut anything that's not pushing the story forward, cut adverbs etc etc. Editing a 120,000 word novel is overwhelming but taking it sentence by sentence, page by page it becomes ordered. Just choose to give your work your best shot.

Put it this way. The smallest, and most used, of all my files (compared to the several bulging box files marked 'Ideas'), is the flimsy, dog-eared editing one I brought here from England, where I'd annotated books by people like Donald Maas, Lajos Egri, Sol Stein, Dorothea Brande. It doesn't matter what stage your writing is at, sometimes you have to be brutal and it takes someone else to see your work clearly. Cutting several favourite scenes from 'Perfume Garden', (still feel a bit queasy thinking about it), was not easy. But it's done. I'm lucky to have an enthusiastic and extremely good new editor to work with. That's a gift. The notes were fantastic, incredibly clear, which made the whole brutal 'kill your darlings' simpler. And the book feels different now - lean, pacy, like it's spent a month at the Priory or the Betty Ford clinic. Now it's just going through and making the whole thing smooth and seamless. If after the millionth read through it's still moving and surprising, either it's working or I need a break.

Talking of which, what are your plans? Share with us your holidays, your writing escapes. WKDN is off-line for the summer - I'm both heading to the UK (not so much a holiday as a prolonged adventure with three houses, two children and a lot of packing boxes ...), and taking a step back to really think about what to do next. The Next Book.

There's a lot happening in the coming months - the German ebook is #1 at the moment, and the full novel is out in a couple of weeks. The lovely Italian cover has just come through - that's September (see today's pic, and another new title 'The Secret of Autumn Roses'). Also in September, I'm off to Oslo for the launch of Parfymehagen (can't wait), and will be doing a launch here in Qatar. Then in November it's the Thames Valley Festival with the HWA, and I'm teaching a series of workshops here in the Middle East. Stories have been accepted for the RNA Anthology, and the Shelter Anthology, 'Stories for Homes' which I'm glad to support and you'll hear more of. So there will be plenty of posts to come once we're all back to school and back to our desks (the children break up tomorrow - no school until the second week of September). 

I am so grateful for all of this. It still blows me away that people are reading these books, (and reading them in languages I can't read myself). Thank you all for your support with the publication of 'The Perfume Garden'. I love getting your emails after every post, and seeing your comments across the web. I hope you've enjoyed the last few weeks of the virtual tour. The final winners from the HFVBT series of posts are (drumroll ...) signed copies: Margaret from ON, Canada, and Gina from Missouri USA. The winner of the audiobook was Linda from Finland. The parcels are on their way to you.

Right, back to the edits, box of Kleenex on standby. Wishing you all a good break, and happy writing. Here comes summer ... x


  1. Hello Kate, I translated The Perfume Garden into German ... looking forward to the next one! Best, Elke
    (textlink at gmx.net)

  2. Hi Elke - great to hear from you, and thank you! Best wishes, Kate

  3. I just joined facebook for the first time with a combination of my blog and real name. Terrified I'll be overwhelmed but wanted people to read my blog: http://queruloussquirreldaily.blogspot.com/
    I''m Querulous Garfunkel on Facebook in case you get a friend request.

    Querulous Squirrel Microfiction Daily is the blog. Your blog has been very helpful in my own writing.

  4. Hello TQS! I shall take a look - and thank you, so glad to hear the blog has been helpful :)


Hot, hot, hot. We're listening ...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...