National Novel Writing Month 2002! (Part 2: Editing)

More emotional anguish on a daily basis, just for you.

This log is now complete. No new updates will be added.

Friday, Day Minus One – 86,321 words – What this is all about

If you’ve been following my adventures so far, you already know that I have managed to write an entire 86,321-words novel in thirty days, thanks to the momentum built during Nanowrimo 2002.

But that was the easy part.

A substantial fraction of "The NaNoWriMo Way" can be expressed in four simple words: Never edit, never delete. Just keep on writing, whatever the quality of what you’re churning out. Alas, you can’t write a readable story that way. It has to be edited before human consumption. Bad writing has to be taken out and replaced with (hopefully) better writing, entire subplots have to be changed, spelling has to be corrected, characters have to be brought to life and, generally, the writer has to suffer. A lot.

So, three months after the end of NaNoWriMo 2002, I head back in the trenches once again for a few dozen days of quasi-insanity. It ends either when I’m satisfied with the novel, or on Easter Sunday 2003, whichever comes first. You can safely bet on the latter, as otherwise I’m liable to fiddle with the thing endlessly.

Naturally,  this daily log of my adventures will put everything in perspective for you.

Rockland, ON – 28/02/03 20:46 EST

Saturday, Day One – 86,321 words – Other writing… and a first peek at the disaster

No writing today. Well, that’s not entirely true: I sent a 4,000-words column to my editor and drafted another 1,300 words to send tomorrow. Plus, took care of three web statistics report and the usual household chores. The day wasn’t wasted.

On the other hand, I did try to read my manuscript, which hadn’t been seen since November 30th. People kept asking me if it was any good, and the only answer I could given them was "I don’t know; I haven’t read it yet." So I read a few randomly-chosen excerpts.

Well, it’s not as bad as I thought.

It’s still pretty awful, but it may not be wretched.

Not sure if it can be fixed, though.

Rockland, ON – 01/03/03 23:12 EST

Sunday, Day Two – 86,321 words – Taxes and other inevitable things

Still no work on the novel. Did my income taxes, re-watched a film, sent off 1,300 words to my other editor (including review of said film), shovelled the driveway and took care of other household chores.

Risked a second peek at the manuscript. Eh. I do like the narrative energy that comes out of it. The rest needs work.

Rockland, ON – 02/03/03 21:31 EST

Monday, Day Three – 86,321 words – Is this thing going to start soon?

Still nothing done on the novel. Went to work. Went to a film. (My first as an invited critic. Fortunately, it was good.) Went home.

Did read a little bit more of the manuscript. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Rockland, ON – 03/03/03 21:47 EST

Tuesday, Day Four – 86,446 words – The box has been opened. The Smarties are everywhere.

Back in November, I ended up buying 1.8kg of Smarties in a post-Halloween clearance sale. Those thousands of Smarties ended up forming a large part of my caloric intake during NaNoWriMo 2002.

Today, the Smarties are back. Another box, working on the "similar working environment" theory that states that working in similar situation tends to put you in a similar state of mind. We’ll see.

For starters today, I lightly edited the first few pages of the manuscript. Tomorrow, things get more complicated as I have to cut and replace nearly twenty pages.

Rockland, ON – 04/03/03 21:52 EST

Wednesday, Day Five – 87,248 words – A few changes here, a few changes there…

Truth be told, I don’t like this editing thing. Not so far, anyway, which explains the decidedly lackadaisical approach I’m using to edit, jumping from one spot to the next in a semi-random fashion, correcting spelling more than bigger problems.

On the other hand, I did make an attempt at replacing some of the twenty pages of boring omniscient exposition by the first of three stories tying it together with the main plot ("exposistories", if I may coin the word). Got bored, but not before doing half of the first story.

Re-reading some of the material today, I was struck by an irrational conviction that the "narrative energy" is, in fact, unpalatable by anyone else. That it’s terribly juvenile. That it’s devoid of any interesting material. That it betrays my lack of reading in French. That it’s unfixable.

Eek. Editing sucks.

Rockland, ON – 05/03/03 21:46 EST

Thursday, Day Six – 88,096 words – This may be progress, or it may be a complete delusion.

Didn’t do much today. Finished a first version of the first exposistory and began working on the second one.

On the other hand, I think I can get a handle on this whole editing anxiety thing. I’ll try writing for someone. For my initial readership. My family. Friends scattered across Canada. The über-geek who helped me during the writing phase. The cute girl(s) at the office. Everyone else who said they’d like to read a copy of the novel once it’s ready. I must look at my manuscript through their eyes and figure out what works for them and what doesn’t. Madness awaits any other way. But then again, maybe madness awaits anyway.

Rockland, ON – 06/03/03 21:37 EST

Friday, Day Seven – 88,099 words – Bof

Puttered here. Puttered there. Napped. What can I say? It’s Friday.

Rockland, ON – 07/03/03 21:58 EST

Saturday, Day Eight – 88,523 words – Sibling Invasion!

It’s great to have siblings over for DVDs, dinner and the occasional game of global domination. But you know what? It’s really not so great when you’re trying to edit a novel. Bleh. Still fiddled with a chapter with rather good results. I’m pleased to note that I seem to be adding more than I’m taking out… which is good news given that I’m aiming for a grand total of 100,000 words.

Rockland, ON – 08/03/03 22:04 EST

Sunday, Day Nine – 88,678 words – A Finger in the Gearbox

Let’s see: Shovelled the driveway, cleaned up personal papers, cooked, took care of personal finances, finished my long-overdue batch of February reviews and site statistics and started work on a new rush-hush web design contract. You’re lucky I’m even writing this, let alone that I fiddled a bit with the novel’s thirteenth chapter. (Exact chapter numbering subject to change, as at least two chapters are going bye-bye Any Time Soon.)

I have to do better next weekend.

Rockland, ON – 09/03/03 20:12 EST

Monday, Day Ten – 88,678 words – Good Webmaster! Bad Author!

Yadda yadda: Work, work on a new web-design contract, groceries and… no work on the novel. I know, I know. But I adequately punished myself: No Smarties for me!

Rockland, ON – 10/03/03 22:06 EST


Tuesday, Day Eleven – 89,662 words – Progress at last

Worked. Worked some more on the web-design contract. Yet came bac
k home, finished a rough draft of the second exposistory and did a good job at humanizing a boring passage. One thousand words without trying too hard. On the other hand, I’m a fourth into my self-imposed editing period and I’m not terribly closer to a readable novel. Bleh.

Rockland, ON – 11/03/03 22:05 EST

Wednesday, Day Twelve – 90,697 words – Two thousand extra words and no place to put them.

Finished the third exposistory today. Actually stopped writing midway through what I had planned, as the cliff-hanger was so delicious that it meant more than completing the tale (which isn’t all that important given that the character re-appears later, explaining all).

The resulting problem from re-writing five chapters of massive exposition as three didactic vignettes is that I find myself with two thousand words of nearly-essential explanatory material left out of the novel. For word count’s sake (always headed towards that magical 100K), everything is still in the file, though I have moved everything at the end to simplify navigation. Either I cut it out entirely, or try to re-include it in the narrative, maybe as paragraphs of exposition.

Fortunately, finishing this third story allows me to get back to the main business of editing, which is improving the existing words rather than writing entirely new ones. I have maybe a short page-long scene left to write (a rather sickly sweet romantic passage) and then it’s back to the unglamorous business of whipping whole words back into shape.

Rockland, ON – 12/03/03 21:40 EST

Saturday, Day Fifteen – 91,436 words – My, does time fly.

Where did the last three days go? Why haven’t I worked on the novel sooner? Timeless questions whose mystery barely cloaks some serious guilt. At least today was a good (but not great) day, with one chapter and a half sort-of-revised and put away for another day.

I worried that the end result of my revisions is acceptable, but just that. Not spectacular, compulsively readable, pulse-pounding edge-of-your-seat excitement, but barely adequate prose with a pedestrian twist. We’ll see. Right now, I just want to get this over with.

Rockland, ON – 15/03/03 23:14 EST

Sunday, Day Sixteen – 92,003 words – Good Sunday. Sit, Sunday, Sit.

Don’t let the seemingly slight word-count change fool you: today was a good day, with five chapters reviewed and a general impression of optimism. A useful lesson learned: It’s always best to edit sequentially, because if you edit the "fun" sequences first and then work your way back to the dull stuff, it’s harder to maintain your interest and easier to make continuity mistakes.

Rockland, ON – 16/03/03 20:35 EST

Monday, Day Seventeen – 92,030 words – Slogging, Cutting, Day-Dreaming.

Slight progress today as I slowly made my way through one of the most difficult/dull/necessary scenes of the novel. Add one word, take three, repeat. On the other hand, I’ve been able to integrate quite a few of the "quasi-cut" exposition, bringing down the extra wordage to 1,500 words. You can be generous and consider that I’m 500 words up today alone, then.

I really want this to be over. Part of it is the torture of this self-imposed workload (any non-writer would consider this amount of voluntary work to be inhuman), part of it is just being tired of it and a third part, growing by day, is the thought of the reward I want to give myself once this is done: A brand-new computer capable of running the latest 3D games and hopefully powerful enough so let me run two or three applications without bringing the whole system down. As soon as the novel is done, I promise…

Rockland, ON – 17/03/03 21:46 EST

Tuesday, Day Eighteen – 92,120 words – Putter, putter, putter.

Not much done today. Edited three pages. Still slogging through a dull stretch.

Rockland, ON – 18/03/03 22:00 EST

Wednesday, Day Nineteen – 92,281 words – Exposition: Done!

Finished editing the last dull exposition sequence. Stopped early, because tomorrow we go to war: No, not that, but the entire 15-pages Los Angeles section is tomorrow’s target. Hideously complex, already tight as a drum and vitally important as a centerpiece of the novel. I’ve dusted off the paper model of the locale (I’m a method writer) and pre-placed the boxes of Smarties. It’s going to be tough.

Flash: So someone at the office asked how the editing was going. I answered truthfully, which is to say that it wasn’t very well. Then I said I’d rather write another novel instead. Which is actually true, you know.

Rockland, ON – 19/03/03 21:10 EST

Saturday, Day Twenty-Two – 93, 206 words – Out of L.A.

It took three days, boxes of Smarties, a thousand extra words and a 2L bottle of a Doctor Pepper rip-off, but I’m finally done with the hideously complex L.A. sequence. Again.

On the upside, I’m pretty much halfway through the novel at chapter fifteen. That means I’m more-or-less on schedule despite everything. Another good thing: When re-reading the already-edited post-L.A. passages, I had very few adjustments to do. This editing stuff is working, then. Wonderful!

Rockland, ON – 22/03/03 21:25 EST

Sunday, Day Twenty-Three – 93,980 words – Good day, Oscar night.

Managed to knock down two chapters and a half. Now up to page 133 out of 209. Plus, I even figured out where and how to re-integrate all the cut exposition. Tomorrow. Because tonight is Oscars night, and that means… TV!

Rockland, ON – 23/03/03 17:57 EST

Monday, Day Twenty-Four – 94,385 words – Just a little bit.

Finished a chapter, then went back to the end of the previous one to add a cute romantic scene and wrote about a third of it before realizing that this was really bad and I’d have to start writing the scene all over again. Decided I’d do that tomorrow.

Rockland, ON – 24/03/03 21:57 EST

Sunday, Day Thirty – 96,182 words – I’m back. Oh yeah.

My editing week so far:

  • Monday: Wrote a cute little romantic scene and decided it should be scrapped and replaced by something else.
  • Tuesday: Thought about it.
  • Wednesday: Went to a book fair to meet my editor. (Completely unrelated, but I thought I’d just throw that in.)
  • Thursday: Thought about it some more.
  • Friday: Cut off most of my beard in desperation.
  • Saturday: Felt guilty, re-wrote the damn scene and started writing another one.
  • Sunday: Finished new scene, integrating chunks of exposition previously discarded. New word total now includes only a paltry 289 words of extra exposition still looking for a good home inside the body of the novel. I’ll do that tomorrow by modifying another scene.

Rockland, ON – 30/03/03 21:01 EST

Monday, Day Thirty-One – 97,085 words – Last day of the month.

Well, the first thirty days are over. Only two weeks left. I’m maybe three-quarters of the way through the first edit, which would be quite all right if I hadn’t the intention to perform a second edit. Oh well.

At least I got rid of several scene fixes and am now (more or less) ready to go with the flow of the rest of the novel. I still have to integrate the extra exposition on the impact of new copyright laws, but that’ll come, even

Rockland, ON – 31/03/03 21:57 EST

Tuesday, Day Thirty-Two – 97,522 words – Uh-oh. First of April. Bad day.

After a fairly upbeat weekend, it suddenly hit me today that I might be working very hard to produce something that may end up as a bunch of pages that is barely fit to sit on a slush pile.

It’s cyclical, but there’s not much to do while I’m in a down phase. All the well-meaning words from friends and family (numerous this weekend after I spent some time explaining the novel to acquaintances) are still based on a complete ignorance of the manuscript. They haven’t read it, and how it reads is the most important thing.

Oh yeah; edited five pages, added nearly five hundred words and stopped myself on the symbolic page 150/220. It would be a good day if I didn’t have the nagging feeling that it’s total crap.

(What?  Don’t look at this page like that. I did promise you emotional anguish on a daily basis)

Rockland, ON – 01/04/2003 21:13 EST

Wednesday, Day Thirty-Three – 98,410 words – Eh.

Good progress given the short time spent working on the novel. Added a few paragraphs clarifying a passage; the nice thing about adding stuff somewhere is that characters have to react to it elsewhere, later in the narrative. The elusive 100,000K now seems inevitable.

Rockland, ON – 02/04/2003 22:07 EST

Thursday, Day Thirty-Four – 98,765 words – Oh well. All is well.

Another good-but-slight day. Making progress, but not enough. This weekend will be make-or-break time. Ironically, I’m now heading towards a stretch of the novel written in a single feverish weekend of 20,000 words. I expect this section to be seriously deficient in literary qualities. More so than the rest of the novel, that is. Wouldn’t it be sweet to be able to edit that section in a single weekend too?

Rockland, ON – 03/04/2003 22:17 EST

Saturday, Day Thirty-Six – 100,633 words – I’m rocking. I’m rolling. Heck, I’m even disco-dancing.

Grrreat Saturday. Did thirty-five pages. Stopped at the beginning of Chapter 25. Thirty pages to go. And guess what? I’ve got my 100Kwords!

Rockland, ON – 06/04/2003 20:38 EST

Sunday, Day Thirty-Seven – 102,050 words – First Down!!!

Yes, sir! Finished the first read-through. I’ll have to do a second one before letting the manuscript escape into the wild, but for now, enough is enough. I’m taking a small break.

Rockland, ON – 07/04/2003 16:47 EAT

Wednesday, Day Forty – 102,394 words – Back in for a second helping.

After a well-deserved break, I started editing again. This may (or may not, depending on how well it goes) be the final read-though before unleashing the book on an unsuspecting circle of First Readers. I’m pleased by the first seven pages so far. It’s the remaining 221 ones that worry me.

Interesting factoid: When I tried whipping up those 228 total pages in a "commonly accepted" paperback format (with some 35-odd lines per page, fifty-sixty characters per line), I ended up between 350 and 375 pages. This mean, yes, a commercially viable length for a novel. No small 150-page novella for me, no Sirree!

Rockland, ON – 08/04/2003 22:13 EAT

Saturday, Day Forty-Three – 104,167 words – Halfway through a second edit.

Whew! This never stops. Big push today. Now at page 115/232. Re-editing the manuscript for a second time requires an entirely different skill-set. Catching inconsistencies. Smoothing out rough spots. Moving a set of skyscrapers by ninety degrees (west become north, etc) for the visuals to make sense (and then correct all geographic locators over fifteen pages). Cut extra exposition (I’m not terribly good at that). Tighten some passages and detail others. Re-reading half the novel in a short amount of time helps to point out overused expressions, repeated details and shifting personalities. Don’t misinterpret my meaning; It’s one of the least fun things I’ve had to do so far, but it’s interesting. It also means I’m nearer to the end than ever before. Somehow, I even managed to slip in another extra 1,800 words.

Rockland, ON – 12/04/2003 22:52 EAT

Sunday, Day Forty-Four – 105,445 words – Second Edit Done; Approaching Comma Point.

Yay! The manuscript now clocks in at 234 pages. Second edit is done, and not a moment too soon. While the first edit meant changing swaths of text, entire characters, whole scenes and plot points, second edit takes place in an environment where I’m pretty pleased with the whole thing. Or, more accurately, I’m getting sick and tired of the whole thing. The scope of my revisions is steadily diminishing. Rather than change whole chapters, I’m down to sentences, replies, adjectives. I’m quickly approaching Comma Point; the moment at which I’ll spend five minutes looking at a comma to decide whether it should stay there or not. This is not a good thing; I’m now so close to the novel that I’m blind (or insensible) to its faults. I must now seek outside opinion.

I’ll do a third edit in two days to fix character names, double-check the geography of a crucial scene and describe a few cars in greater detail, but after that, it goes to the printer. And to my unfortunate circle of First Readers.

Rockland, ON – 13/04/2003 21:56 EAT

Tuesday, Day Forty-Six – 105,689 words – Mopping up (Part One): The uses of Smarties as tactical devices.

Let’s not fool ourselves: There’s still a lot of work to do on this puppy. The prose style is ponderous, the characters are mere cardboard cut-outs, the locations are barely described and the vocabulary is not only limited, but used incorrectly. But it’s too late to have doubts; this first editing phase gets locked down tomorrow, and what remains to be done until then is mopping up, fixing the most annoying details in the hope that it’ll be one less thing to do during the next editing phase.

So today, I fixed character names (Whew! It was time!), fixed car names and descriptions (improving the flow of one action scenes, as saying "Perena" was much easier to scan than "Kathleen’s white sedan" over and over again.) and spent some time double-checking the geography of the Los Angeles action set-piece with the help of my trusty scale model of the surrounding and a bunch of Smarties standing in for the various units moving around. (Red is for bad guys and blue for good. I ended eating the Blue ones last.) Tomorrow, the big one: Fixing all dates so that they’re consistent. Someone hand me a timeline…

Rockland, ON – 15/04/2003 21:41 EAT

Wednesday, Day Forty-Seven – 105,953 words – Mopping up (Part Two): This is it! No more Smarties, no more time, no more editing.

Ran out of Smarties exactly as I finished mopping up the bigger details. Did not assemble my brand-new computer, fixed a few names, knocked three years off my storyline and made a small attempt at fixing some ill-integrated exposition, but everything stopped tonight as I complete my self-imposed Lent of editing. The novel isn’t perfect, but it’s readable, and I think that’s more than enough at this point.

It’s going to be a Good Thing to stop thinking about it for a while.

Rockland, ON – 16/04/2003 21:55 EAT

Thursday, Day Forty-Eight – 105,953 words – Done. A few Conclusions.

Spent some time near the printer and the paper-cutter to help turn
the manuscript in sort of a book-like object for my First Readers. Not much remains to be said, except for a few conclusions:

  • Editing sucks. No surprise there.
  • No, I mean: It really sucks. There is no sustained rush in writing the novel to completion. All that remains is blind second-guessing, trying to find le mot juste in order to make it somehow "better".
  • This being said, a few things can ease the pain of editing. Perhaps the most important is to avoid feeling guilty if a day or two are missed. Editing is (I might be repeating myself, here) not fun. You deserve a break.
  • My advice as to how to proceed is to fix the broken parts first: Rewrite the really bad scenes, insert the needed material, cut the bad stuff and generally throw the whole thing into chaos once more. Then start again, at page one, and edit like mad in a sequential fashion. It helps with the continuity and is generally less embarrassing than finding out you’re repeating details that had already been mentioned.
  • Keep the new character names for last. It will help you re-read the manuscript in an entirely new way afterward.
  • A firm deadline, Smarties and a big reward at the end are really helpful.
  • And yet, despite all my kvetching, I must admit that the end result truly is better than what I started out with. It may be amateurish, ill-written and in serious need of a structural adjustment, but at least it’s now readable.

Last Updated:
April 2003

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