My current work-in-progress is a little complicated: I’m finishing the half-written sequel to a novel published several years ago. I soon realised my first job was to reread the original book to refamiliarize myself with characters and plot. It had been published in paperback, so I could approach it like any other reader.
So I settled down and began rereading. If you’re a writer you can probably guess what happened next. Yes, I found a typo on the second page. I made a note of it, and read on. Then I found a second minor typo. Another note made. And then I found something that really required rewriting. At this point I dithered. My reading flow was being interrupted by things that needed fixing. So I made a big effort to ignore them and finish the book – although I couldn’t help noticing as I went that there were a few other inconsistencies that had escaped the editor (and me) when the book was first published. I might as well re-edit this book before moving on to the sequel, I thought. The rights had reverted to me a while ago, and if I re-edit now, I could look at publishing it along with the sequel later on.
The usual process of re-editing is to return to the original manuscript and tinker with the writing until it all makes good sense. A very tiresome process, I always think. But then I had another idea. Why not literally rewrite the book? Start again with a blank file and retype the whole thing, making adjustments as necessary? This would obviously be a long job – but as a trained typist my keyboard skills are pretty good, and with a paperback copy to work from there would be no cumbersome printing out of the original to do. I really enjoy typing, and the idea appealed to me.
So that’s what I did, and what a good idea it turned out to be. Typing out from scratch obliged me to read slowly, to look at the words as they appeared on the screen, to stop and think between chapters, and I found many more inconsistencies of character and plot as I went along than my rapid reading-through had revealed. I fixed them one at a time, rewriting completely here and there, taking my time. And do you know what? I enjoyed every minute of it. The book emerged tighter, less wordy and more logical, and I got to know my characters thoroughly all over again. I learned a great deal about my writing foibles, too!
Now I appreciate this approach isn’t for everyone. We don’t all have the time to go the long way round like this. But for me it’s been a revelation. The business of editing and correcting, which I usually find so painful, has been transformed into an enjoyable, gentle, natural process as I became re-immersed in the story at slower than walking pace – actually quite relaxing. Obviously, I may have added in a few typos along the way, but I’ll reread and check before the book goes anywhere. I’d have to do that anyway.
For me, this long-way-round was time well invested, and the best possible preparation for tackling the completion of the sequel. It’s certainly an editing method I will consider in future. If anyone else has tried this approach, I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.