Herding Cats


So, I’ve been doing a little editing recently. I have six books on the go at the moment – the next five instalments of The Ambeth Chronicles, plus another unrelated novel that’s very close to being finished. Oh, I’m not trying to edit them all at once, not at all – that would be a recipe for insanity, I think. Instead I’m focusing on No Quarter, the next Ambeth instalment, with occasional forays into A Thousand Rooms, my unrelated-to-anything-else novel.

When I first wrote No Quarter, the words just fell from my fingertips, so fast at times it was hard to get them onto the page, my fingers flashing on the keyboard as the sentences flowed. But, as is so often noted, first drafts usually suck. Sure, the story is there, plus the occasional passage where you’ve just nailed it, managing to write the words just as you wish them to be. But for the most part, first drafts need a lot of editing, refining and fairly ruthless chopping before they are ready to go out into the wider world.

And so this book was no different. I’ve edited it several times since first writing, had it out to beta readers (all of whom loved it), and have read and re-read it many times myself. But it needs a little more polishing. And so I’m on a final structural edit before sending it to my editor (is that a bit like cleaning the house before the cleaner comes over?) and the phrase ‘herding cats’ keeps coming to mind as I chase the words across the page.

For it seems as soon as I get one lot of phrases in order, another set runs free, yowling and scratching and refusing to get into line, leading to yet more rewriting and adding and taking away. It is a fight, this book, yet I will not give up. The story is there and, if I keep going, bit by bit, I know I’ll get it corralled.

I once wrote of words as being slippery silver fish, lurking in dark waterweed. At the time I was thinking more of how it feels when you’re searching for the correct phrase to express what it is you want to say, a far more sedate place to be than the forest of handwritten notes and wriggling paragraphs where I find myself now.

And so I continue, cracking my metaphorical whip and wielding my red pen, pulling these unruly sentences into line, tying the story together. And I know that, eventually, it will be done and I can sit back, nursing my scratches and breathing deep, before I tackle the next one.

How does editing feel to you? Is it a struggle, or a part of the process that flows? There are so many metaphors that come to mind: trying to squeeze into a too tight corset, smoothing harsh edges in a sculpted piece of work, untangling a skein of silken thread. Editing is a necessary part of the writing process and, once completed, gives the satisfaction of a job well done, a polished piece of art ready to share with a wider audience.

But at the moment, it’s all cats 🙂

4 thoughts on “Herding Cats

  1. If you think cats are bad, you want to try herding goats! Wilful little things that they are! Love all your descriptions of the editing process… it is indeed all of these things, and there’s no easy way of doing it. It is a chore which must be endured till its over, when it gives even more satisfaction than the actual book writing.

  2. I have SUCH a love/hate relationship with editing! It is as you say, of course–a story never comes out right the first time, save for a few flashes of lucky brilliance I might have while otherwise tumbling my way around the page. I think Ali hit it right on the head; it’s difficult in the moment, but always worth it when it’s over. I’m always happier with what I’ve written when it’s been edited (again), and that is surely a good thing, but nothing in this world is quite as adept at making me question whether I should be writing at all as the editing process. I’ll be looking back over some section or another and find myself asking an empty room, “what was I thinking when I did this?” That, of course, spirals into a vicious cycle of self doubt and re-examination of the REST of the story, as if I have that kind of time! Seriously though, grueling but necessary. Like mowing the lawn.

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