Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Old-School Edit

EDIT: In one of those odd coincidences the folks over at The Everyday Author (I did an interview there not long ago) posted a blog on editing (with actual advice) at the same time I was blathering on about my own process: Polish like a boss: tips for revising a manuscript.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

I wish I was one of those mythical writers who spewed out first drafts so good they didn’t require the gentle massaging love of the Bloody Red Pen of Editing and Evisceration. But I’m not. Nope, my first drafts are fucking awful. They’re chock full of typos, grammatical and tense errors, long and shitty sentences, gaping plot holes even an Imperial Stormtrooper could hit, and unfinished story lines.

My first drafts are stank.

I have learned—the hard way—that editing is absolutely critical. And not just one pass of editing. Many, many passes. I’m not even sure how many, as I do different kinds of passes.

For gits and shiggles, I’m going to break them down. None of what follows is advice. This is just the way I do things, and I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about.

The No-Brainers

The first few editing passes require very little brain. I can listen to music and have a few drinks while I’m doing them. They are seek and destroy missions. I use the search function of my word-processor (LibreOffice these days) to find and murder the words I either over-use, or which weaken my writing.

Off the top of my head here are a few of the more common ones: That, was, just, still, could.

Sometimes, as with the word ‘just,’ it’s simply a case of just deleting it.

Sometimes, as with ‘could,’ it needs to be replaced: She could see it was about to rain might become, She saw it was about to rain. Or even, It was going to rain.

The First Read(s)

For these passes I read the entire book from top to bottom, correcting typos and fixing particularly egregious sentences. If any plot holes (etc.) leap out I’ll leave myself a note (making use of the Comments tool) as what needs to be done. I’ll also highlight any paragraphs or chapters in need of a complete rewrite. I’ll do this at least three times, on each pass leaving more notes and comments and always finding more shitty sentences in need of evisceration. These edits are done in complete silence, no music and no booze. All three of my functioning neurons are put to work.

Actually Fixing Things

Once I’ve reached the point where I can’t find any more crappy sentences, I go through the book addressing all the notes and comments I’ve left myself. I can’t really count the number of ‘passes’ this requires as it’s an all-over-the-place process. Any new writing or rewriting will likely be completed while listening to skull-crunching death metal. Any actual editing will be done in silence.

To the Test Readers!

At this point I send the manuscript off to my test readers, telling them it’s my first draft. Bawah! I am an evil genius. While they’re slogging through it I get to work on another book. If you’re working to a schedule, guess at how long you think your readers will take and then multiply it by six! These folks have their own lives and I don’t pay them. They’ll get to my book whenever they get to it. Hassling your test readers is the true mark of an arsehole.

I find it takes about three months to hear back from all my readers. Luckily, assuming the world-building and background work is  already finished, that’s also about how long it takes me to finish a first draft.

The Big Fix

When I get the book back from my test readers there’s always more work to do. Some of it will be minor repairs like clarifying a scene. Some of it will be much bigger. Sometimes they want a whole pile of new chapters expanding the story on what I thought were background characters. If one of four test-readers says this I will think about ignoring them. If two or more are asking for the same thing, I listen.

I’m Almost Finished! (not)

At this point I try to convince myself the book is ready to send off to my agent for her thoughts. It ain’t. I do two more passes of editing looking for crap sentences and always find some. As with other editing passes, this is done in complete silence. When these passes are completed I desperately want to send her the manuscript; I want this damned book out of my hands. I want to stop thinking about it. But no. It’s time for the…

Old-School Edit

Brampton-20150813-00529I’m lucky in that all my friends have real jobs and even luckier one of them works for a large company that either doesn’t care (or doesn’t notice) that he occasionally prints 500+ page documents. Once I have the stack of printed pages I attack them with the Bloody Red Pen of Editing and Evisceration. Think back to what you’re read here. How many passes of editing have I done at this point? And on this pass, the printed paper and red pen pass, I often find more than I found in the last several passes combined. There is something different about reading paper while holding a pen that focusses my brain. Sentences that looked fine on the computer stand out as utter shit on paper.

And after all the above, when a real editor finally gets hold of the manuscript, it still comes back with edits, suggestions, corrections, and requests for rewrites.

So…what’s your editing system?

The Hedonic Treadmill

Nothing appearing on this site should be taken as advice. Ever. There is not a single topic I actually know anything about or understand, for I am a bear of very little brain. You have been warned. And I’m telling you right off the top, I shall make no attempt to make sense or defend whatever crazy crap I might say.  I have no plan and no agenda. I don’t feel like editing right now and this seems like a nice diversion.

What follows is not science.

It should be noted this is only a theory, and a much contested one at that. But for my purposes, I’ll pretend it’s real. After all, my delusions define my reality. And if you’re reading Beyond Redemption, maybe my delusions are influencing your reality too.


This is my Hedonic Elliptical.

It’s covered in dust.

As are those weights.

Yes, my basement is a mess.

So. The Hedonic Treadmill. The basic idea is that people have a baseline level of happiness (determined by genetics, personality, and how much peanut butter you have in the pantry) and that after either extreme excitement or happiness (a big publisher bought my insane book!) or terrible tragedy (my legs fell off because I spent a year sitting on my ass doing nothing but writing and editing!) we return to that baseline.

That was an overly long and shitty sentence.

I’m going to focus on one small aspect of the treadmill: Money.

According to the Hedonic Treadmill theory making more money only makes you temporarily happier. Part of this is that when people make more money, their expenses also increase and they in fact end up with exactly the same amount of stress as they had before.

I was chatting with a friend a few days back. He makes well into six figures a year whereas I am an unknown writer with a strange book which has yet to earn out its advance and maybe never will. We both have stresses. I’m worrying about making mortgage payments but I absolutely love what I’m doing. He is worried that he’s chained to a job he’s ambivalent about by a need to make monstrous mortgage payments. Is he happier with his huge pay-check and (pretty much) guaranteed salary than I am as I sit here wondering whether Harper Voyager will buy my next book? I don’t think so. We bitch about different things, but we both bitch. He’s all impressed that I’m a published author and thinks it’s amazing that I am chasing my dream. I’m all impressed he can pay for lunch.

Is he happier? I don’t think so. We’re both basically happy dudes in spite of our stresses.

There are two thoughts that fall out of this.

One: There are things that do increase your baseline happiness. My wife and I bought a house and moved out of our condo two years ago and that has definitely increased my happiness on a long term. My family—in spite of all the stresses of modern living/parenting—is a continual source of happiness. They are the coolest most awesome ‘thing’ I have ever been involved with. They make me a better person.

Two: There is no spoon.

Three: What? You said two thoughts! I lied. Could a way off the treadmill involve making more money but not increasing your cost of living? What if making more money didn’t mean you had to live in a bigger house, drive an over-priced car, and buy more expensive coffee? What if making more money didn’t involve being deeper in debt? What if you only spent money you actually had?

Nah. That’s crazy talk. I want a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R.


Remembering Why I Do This

BR Cover with blurbI wrote BEYOND REDEMPTION with no expectation of it either landing me an agent or being published. At best I hoped the folks at Five Rivers Publishing (who published 88) might publish it, but it seemed just as likely they might say it was too damned weird. I wrote the book thinking only a half-dozen of my close friends would ever read it. To some degree I wrote it for them, but mostly I wrote it for me.

After the good folks at Harper Voyager bought BEYOND REDEMPTION I threw myself into writing the next two novels. All was well and good until the reviews started rolling in. I found myself reading about how great the writing was, how original the concept was, and how well-written the characters were. It’s even made a few Best of the Year (so far) lists. Publishers Weekly gave it an apparently rare starred and boxed review. Booklist said, “The journey is dark and emotionally taxing, but there aren’t many fantasy novels as smart, ambitious, and excellently written as this one.”

PW Starred ReviewBy this point I’d finished the first drafts of both THE MIRROR’S TRUTH and THE ALL CONSUMING and was into editing. The reviews didn’t give me confidence, didn’t calm the fear that I had no fucking idea what I was doing. The reviews scared the shit out of me. How the hells did I write a book worthy of this praise? It felt like I’d done it by mistake, in spite of myself rather than due to skill or long hours of psychotic editing.

I began to look at the two books I was editing with doubt. Would people like them as much as they liked BEYOND REDEMPTION? Should I rewrite or edit to make them more accessible? Should I be trying to recapture what I wrote in BR? Did folks want more of the same, or something different but kinda the same, or did they expect me to come up with something equally genre-bending but totally different?

In short, I began to look at my books not as something written for myself, but as something written for you, the reader. It stressed me out. I don’t know you. We’ve never met. I have no fucking idea what you like. Writing for you is totally unlike writing for my half-dozen close friends.

Which is when I realized I was making a mistake. I can’t write for you. All I can do is write for myself and the handful of friends I’ve known most of my life. I will do my best to write books they will enjoy. I hope you enjoy them too, but that’s beyond my control and I tire of stressing myself out over things I can’t change.

BR at ChaptersI will say this: Each book will be different; I have no interest in rewriting BEYOND REDEMPTION over and over. I did it and it’s done. But there’s a lot in that world I still want to explore. Different cultures, religions, philosophies, and characters. The books might share some common themes, but there will also be new ones. Sometimes there will be heroes and sometimes there won’t. Sometimes those heroes will struggle through adversity to win the day, sometimes they’ll die trying.

And if you liked BEYOND REDEMPTION, maybe writing for you isn’t so unlike writing for my friends after all. Maybe you share their rather odd tastes.

I can but hope.

-Mike Fletcher