There’s an old adage amongst writers that says you should never edit your WIP until the first draft is finished. And this makes absolute sense – it would be far too east to get caught up tweaking the early text here, changing it there and wind up never actually getting around to finishing that first draft at all.
But I must confess to being a little bit naughty here – I’ve gone back and made some major edits to a ‘middle’ section of A Tortured Soul before having gotten to the end of the first draft. Of course, I have my reasons, and the edits I’ve made haven’t been to ‘polish’ the text or tweak the dialogue or prose – they’ve been pretty major.
Let me explain.
When I started writing I had, in my head, a rough timescale over which the plot would take place. It would begin in mid-September 2012 with the climax taking place sometime in spring 2013. But… I stuffed up. As I wrote I found that I’d reached a ‘pivotal’ point in the plot far too early – in terms of plot timescale I hadn’t even reached mid-November.
Now, I didn’t think this would be a major problem. I went back and wrote a few extra lines here and there earlier in the text that shifted the timescale on to a much more appropriate mid-January, and carried on writing. But as I carried on writing, the lack of any real substance for what happened during the now ‘missing’ couple of months began to become a problem. In particular, I realised that Paul would have received some news over the Christmas holiday that would affect his mind set on going back to university in January (where I’d picked up writing from).
Then, something else significant happened. I wrote a ‘chapter’ that felt wrong. It felt disjointed – as if half of it belonged in the previous chapter and the other half was part of the next chapter. So I did the only sensible thing and started to cut and paste.
Only, I got carried away. Once I’d started to cut and paste chapters 19 and 20, I then found myself shifting bits of other chapters around. And then I got as far back as that annoying section of text in chapter 12 that contained the ‘missing’ couple of months.
Cut,snip, paste, type…
I wound up cutting that chapter in half, pasting some of it to an earlier chapter, some of it to the following chapter and then inserting blank lines with instructions of scenes I needed to write to fill in the gaps.
So this isn’t so much ‘editing’ the first draft in the sense of making the text better, it was more adding to the first draft by writing non-linearly rather than my usual rigid linear method.
Has it worked? I’m not sure. Yet. I’m now left with a birthday celebration to write, followed by an awkward Christmas dinner over which some unwanted news will be given out (as well as some pleasant news too). I’ve not written those scenes yet, but I do know what will be happening in them. And those scenes will fit the text that follows much better. That, at least, will ease the turmoil in my mind over the timescale of the plot, and allow me to get on and write to the end of the first draft. After that, I can do a ‘proper’ edit, focusing on polishing the text, picking up the typos and ensuring continuity and that the plot hangs together sensibly.
At least, that’s the plan.