Invited by a very kind person to send some of my writing for them to read through, I was about to email the first couple of chapters of the first novel I wrote when, right before I hit ‘send’, I decided to read through it. I can’t decide if that was a lucky save or a big mistake! This was a piece of work I’d started in school, had a break from, picked up again during A-levels and university, left collecting dust (literally, because I was writing it in notebooks) for a year or so, and finally finished. . . must be a few years ago now. Doesn’t time go by in a flash! So this was a long-running project, which after I finished I left for a while before editing a couple of times. It was a fantasy story, and I remember I’d decided it was aimed at adults but suitable for younger readers too.
This is what I found within the first couple of pages:
- Use of names – happened a lot, like, every other sentence
- Incorrect use of punctuation
- Unnecessary or repetitive description
- Weird sentences
- Lack of general fluidity or flow to the writing
- Starting new chapters when it wasn’t needed
Clearly my writing style has changed over that many years and I hadn’t really noticed, but is it for the better? On the whole, yes. At least I hope so. But at the same time I had people (admittedly mostly family members but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t tell the truth) read that story when I finished and they said it was good, and I thought it was pretty good too. So the question is, if I go through and edit it today, will it end up having the same feel to the story when I’m done changing it? Will it be the same story, or something else altogether?
If it really is that bad, then sure, that’s fine, but what if it is just that my perception of writing has altered – grown up, if you like – rather than improved. What then? How can I know?
The truth is, I can’t know for sure what’s best to do with it, which version of the story might be better. No-one could, no matter how much knowledge or experience they have. In the end it’s a guess, or at best an estimation based on your knowledge/skill/experience. It might be good as it is, it’s just more young adult than adult. If I edit it, maybe it’ll finish altogether adult, and although the grammar and punctuation would hopefully be better, in the process it could loose something more intangible that made it good.
Whatever you do there are going to be some people who love your work and some who hate it and some who just don’t care, and as with most things, you can’t please everyone. If you try you’ll end up in a pickle. All you can do is decide whether or not you yourself are comfortable with it, keeping in mind that actual people, people you may even know, might be reading this one day.
So, reading this piece of writing today, what do I feel? To be honest my first reaction was to be slightly horrified, rather embarrassed, and I actually cringed at several bits. Especially when I remembered I’d sent it out to competitions. I’d almost absent-mindedly been editing as I read, however by the time I’d gone through a couple of pages, changing nearly every sentence and deleting several altogether, I stopped. I realised that this was no quick job; if I was going to do it, and get it right, it would be a significant commitment of time and effort.
My next move? Write about it of course, to help me think it through! (Side-note: I never understood the point of journals or diaries and I did try keeping them, but this. . .this is like talking to a friend, getting free life advice and therapy combined! Not that I’ve ever experienced the second two, and the first might just be because of the way I write!) My longer-term plan: keep a copy of the document as it is now, save it as edit 1. When I’m ready, start from the beginning; open a new document and copy the text over. Work through it chapter by chapter, re-writing, editing. Save it as edit 2 or 1.1 or whatever. See what I end up with. When I get to the end, I stop, put it away for a month or so, and only then can I get it out again for another read-through.
I guess this is what’s meant when people say writing the story is only the beginning, and I’m not even thinking of the publishing side of it yet!