Today I redrafted the novel I wrote for my PhD, specifically to meet the suggestions made by an editor who saw it in its original form. Well, I say today – really, I have spent months redrafting and trying to sort out the narrative in my head. All the redrafting has been done on the laptop, but now I am printing out a hard copy version for further editing. This process of editing is an interesting one, but not one I have previously relished. If studying for the PhD in Creative Writing has taught me anything, it is the virtue of editing.
Editing has always been a challenge, but when it comes to academic work, I learned early on the value of repeated editing, redrafting, and polishing. It is still a mystery to me why for almost three decades I found it difficult to edit and rewrite creative work. Perhaps it is the nature of the work itself, in which the aesthetics of the language and form seem so much more important. Not that academic writing isn’t important, particularly style and the ability to convey ideas in an appropriate manner. Perhaps it is because the rules are different. Certainly, a recent trawl through my ‘diary box’ revealed a respectable pile of old writing, none of which has ever been subject to editing.
That my recently redrafted novel has been subject to almost seven years of drafting and redrafting, editing and polishing seems almost incomprehensible to me. Certainly it is a different product to the raw, challenging first person narrative I first created in longhand on yellow pads with a Cross cartridge pen. The passage of time and multiple edits has resulted in a changed relationship between me and the manuscript. More importantly, my relationship with the characters has also changed, perhaps due to the fact that I finally understand my main character properly now. This process of discovery has been absurdly lengthy, in my view, although I know seven years is not really that long to write a book in the greater scheme of things. I also know that my life moves in cycles of seven years, so I should not be surprised to be finalising the last version of this story now. But as I sit and regard the printed pages, I feel a burgeoning sense of pride, dissimilar to the pride I felt when I completed the first full draft. Although less raw and urgent, the narrative that grips me now is more rounded, the characters more vital, and the plot more discernible than before.
I have come a long way since those early days, scribbling away in cafes and corners and seeing writing as a private endeavour. The biggest change is the way that the process of creative writing has changed for me, becoming much more like academic writing, a craft, a business, a series of projects that must be produced. I still lose myself in the act of creation when writing something new, but I see it as work now, and the pleasurable first act is followed by multiple acts of revision. Re-vision, seeing anew, creating new dimensions and deepening my understanding of the characters and their actions. I never understood editing before. Now I am a believer.
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