In the frenzy of preparing to write my 6th novel, CORNERS, or 4th, really, counting SIREN SUICIDES as 1 story, I've been asked about editing. "How?" Cried a fellow writer. "How do you edit?" "Oh." I said. "It's very simple." I petted the writer. "Please stop tearing out your hair. When you get rich and famous, you'll have none left." Indeed. What a question. We all do it. Writers, I mean. Right? We all edit. Write and edit and edit and edit to death. But how? How do we do it? Is there a technique we all use? Certain rules? Do we slap ourselves 4 times on the thighs for good luck? Do we listen to the call of a corncrake before we start? Do we rub ourselves with tallow and roll in honey and walk into a cloud of buzzing bees? These are fine methods, I tell you. You're welcome to share your secrets.
Here is my secret.
It's a very secret secret.
VERY VERY SECRET SECRET.
So don't you share it with anyone, it's for you and for you only.
I TEAR MY DRAFTS APART AND CUT MOST OF THE STORY OUT.
Just like that.
Here is how my writing process looks like.
1st draft is for dumping.
I write and write and write non-stop, without looking back, every day, picking up the next day where I left the day before, without going back or editing, you hear me? None! I race ahead to get the story down on paper. All of it, no matter how crazy it sounds. I take weird detours in the middle. I get lost. I find myself again. I keep going. I don't stop until it's done. Like, I find the ending and write the last sentence and type the last point and save the file and fall off my sitting ball and get drunk on vodka and don't remember myself for the next couple weeks. Then I sober up in some pothouse and look around and stagger home and start the next draft.
2nd draft is for cutting.
First I read the nonsense I wrote, from cover to cover, take notes, but don't break until I have read all of it. For this I either print it out or put it on my Kindle, so I'm not tempted to start editing. Then the fun starts. What I do is fairly simple. I open up the 1st Draft Word file and rename it Draft 2 and EVERYTHING I DOUBT, I CUT. Yes, as soon as I come across something that just doesn't make an iota of sense, it's banished. By the time I'm done, about 50% of the story is gone. My 1st drafts are usually around 120K words, so that leaves 2nd drafts at around 60K words. Whack! Out with it! I leave only parts that resonate with me for some reason. Then, my darling hatchets, I take another 1 week break on the North Pole. It's very cold there and good for thinking.
3rd draft is for adding.
The 2nd draft ends up being the skeleton of the story. As I read through it, I begin seeing places where I can add things. A bit of backstory. A longer line of dialogue. A snippet of description. There are noticeable gaps that need to be filled, and that is what I do. Add meat to the bones, to make it an organism that is capable of surviving on its own. This is hard work. 3rd drafts are, perhaps, the hardest, because they are very meticulous. This is the draft where I add research as I see fit. Not much, but some. To make the story authentic. A fact here. A specific detail there. I end up adding about 10-20K words. It takes time. One word can take hours of research, the proper plant name or philosophical concept or animal species behavior. I do it with timorous laughter and sweating like a pig. It's both scary and exhilarating. And then, when done...
4th draft is for polishing.
ROSEHEAD took me only 3 drafts, so not all of my books get to this stage. Those that do, I polish. This is the draft for proper grammar, sentence structure, correct timing, continuity issues, repetitions to be cut out, synonyms to be found for words that are not exactly conveying what I want them to convey. Anything that jumps out as purple mawkish prose or timid fuzzy structure or something clearly trying too hard, I cut. Not much of it, though. This draft stays roughly the same amount of words as the previous one. Around 80K. At this stage I know the story and its voice so well, it's almost too easy. After this is done, I stop. There is often a desire to do another run, but I squash it while it's embryonic. Because, no. No! Enough. No story is ever perfect. This now needs another pair of eyes and goes to my editor.
Then I emerge from my writing cave, an emaciated writer with a disheveled beard (I do grow 1 beard per book, but I shave it off before readers see me). I blink at the light and scratch my scalp and straighten my shoulders and crack my back and wonder where I am and what day it is and what season and what year.
There you go. This is how I edit.
And after I realize that I am indeed done, I frolic around in pleasure and do a crazy dance and record it on video and embarrass myself by posting it on YouTube.