Iceberg, right ahead!

icebergI’ve just made it through the copyediting phase of my first to-be-published novel Ryders Ridge so I thought I’d pause to reflect on the iceberg-y nature of books. And who doesn’t love a good Titantic reference? (for a fun and actually balanced sidebar, check out this).

When I was a beginning writer (a phase I might be just moving out of now), just getting the manuscript done was the big hurdle. The whole task. Once that baby is finished, you think, you’ve done it. Send it out and let the admiring begin. Mission accomplished, Captain!

Yeah, no. A little later, I learned about editing, a painful realisation – but by all the wordy gods, a necessary one. Over the last few years, I’ve come to love it. Editing is where characters and story actually get tuned into something passable, and possibly even something good. First drafts must be made into order to edit them, and nothing more, which is immensely liberating.

You hear many times how it’s critical to be able to edit your own work, and it’s true – at both structural and line level. But then, there’s being edited by someone else. Oh, the pain. Not usually of what’s actually said/suggested (any professional editor should have a professional tone), but acknowledging someone else has actually read your work and thought about it. This too, however, I’ve learned to love. They spot things I never would. This is also one of the the reasons I think it’s important to move on if you find yourself endlessly editing the same project (my first novel was set aside for this reason).

But, back to the iceberg. Ryders Ridge is something of a miracle in production speed. I’m a quick writer usually, but this was still unusual effort, and the condensed timeframe allows me to estimate hours of actual work with better accuracy than with a project done over longer periods. Here’s my numbers:

  • 150 hours to write the first draft
  • 300 hours to structurally edit – at least (2 edits before sale and 1 after)
  • 60 hours to go through the copy edit

rydersSo, I think more than double the work in editing than in writing. Editing was also much more mental work than writing; and in my case, unfortunately, involved more dithering (at least in the first two edits). Was there more work because I wrote it fast? No, I don’t think so. I actually think it was the best quality manuscript I’d produced to date, not least because I didn’t have time to forget scenes and plot-lines. It’s not quite the 1/9th above water level of a real iceberg, but it feels like most of the work happened after writing “the end”.

I actually think this isn’t something I was ready to know when I was starting out. It’s helpful sometimes to not realise these things until you reach a certain stage, at least for me. But I think there’s two things you have to know if you’re close to finishing that first manuscript. Firstly – you must edit. And secondly – you must structurally edit first. Otherwise all that careful line editing will be wasted time, probably hacked out or changed in the first structural review. Happy editing. 🙂

About Charlotte Nash

Writer and editor, loves Australia

Posted on January 7, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. This is a fantastic article Charlotte, thank you. I’m at the editing stage of my first novel and thoroughly going through it structurally is taking so long. Your article has given me some faith that I will one day soon, get to the end of it (and the start of the next bit hahaha) x

  2. Great advice, Charlotte, that all newbie writers need to log into that compartment at the back of their writerly minds. And to think that once upon a time, I thought that when you wrote THE END it really was the end!

    This really calls for a shameless plug for QWC’s Year of The Edit course:

    • No shame in the plug – that was my first stepping stone into editing 🙂 QWC has made huge differences in so many writer’s progress (including mine). Really hoping to write a course to propose to them this year for the 2014 program 🙂

  3. Great post Charlotte. You have given us real time facts and real help in this process. I am a newbie writer working on my very first novel. The encouragement and support from QWC and all the authors willing to share the journey are so appreciated as I write, re-write, and write some more! Seven books on writing are consulted and used daily. Outlining, pantsing all working well for me. I love how the characters tell me what to write!

    • Thanks Jeanne 🙂 So glad to hear you are enjoying your writing and the QWC awesomeness. I think every writer settles into the combination of techniques that work for them … figuring that out is part of the fun (and sometimes frustration). The figures on my times seem to be of interest to a lot of people who read this blog, so I’ll think about what else I have in documenting my writing time that I can offer as info. I’ve tracked my writing time over several projects and also all my short fiction sub times, so I’ll see if there’s a blog in those. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  4. Congratulations on finishing! I’m a beginning writer as well, though I don’t even know if I feel like I should be calling myself a “writer”. I have to remind myself that non-fiction counts, which I tend to enjoy writing more because I have accomplished more of it and it gives me that “writer’s high” when I read it over and think it’s actually GOOD. Fiction scares me more, I think, because of the idea of someone else editing it.

    I read your short story in Scareship and immediately said to myself, “Oh my gosh, who is this, I hope she has a blog or something.” I adored it and I look forward to reading more of your work. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the lovely words about my story in Scareship – I have a lot of affection for that one and was happy when Rick (the fab editor over at Scareship) accepted it. Feeling very pleased 🙂 Also … non-fiction completely counts, and I think the feeling of not being sure if you can call yourself a ‘writer’ is a very common one. I think (not sure if you’re the same) a lot of it stems from other norms we use to define our professional identity (which tend to be tied to being paid for it, having a job that someone created for you, etc). Getting those things with writing, especially when you’re starting out, is rare. I think many writers carry the ‘I’m not really a writer’ for a long time. I tend to think that if deep inside you, you yearn to write, and you put your words down, re-read them and think about what you’re trying to say, then you’re a writer. You might be a hobbyist, or a professional,… and you may be beginning, or emerging, or early career or established … but you are a writer. Push on boldly, and all the best. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Evolution of a manuscript – The truth about editing in numbers | Charlotte Nash

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