Editing The Thaw – Second Draft Success!

A while back I discussed where I was at with the editing process with my post-apocalyptic novel The Thaw. Basically, just starting off on the wonderful journey! During that time, I happened to take a meandering, very-much-procrastinating wander onto my Twitter. I found this:

Well, I’m delighted to be able to say that, two years after I started writing the book at all (and about a year after finishing that), I now have a fully line-edited second draft in my possession! I even managed to print it out and it looks mightily impressive!

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A very proud author with his printed second draft in sunny Kingston-upon-Thames! 😎

Safe to say, I am thrilled and proud of myself for making it this far.  The Thaw is easily the longest single work I’ve written and I’m more proud of myself for being disciplined and making it through the edit. It’s been a tough process – it took about two months, with around 70 hours work, to get from cover to cover.

That’s longer than I’d anticipated but, in a way, unsurprising given how rough and heat-of-the-moment the initial draft was. What I’ve learned through this process is a lot – I’m certainly able to handle a work of this length, and more importantly, I’ve learned some important lessons about self-editing and how a novel evolves as a piece through successive drafts. With The Thaw I already feel the work is a lot stronger, a lot clearer and a lot more engaging than it was in its initial form.

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Ultimately, thinking back, I’m extremely proud of the core idea and story at the heart of my book, and I do genuinely think it’s something I’m going to pursue publication of. It’s a good story – yes, not perfect, but making measurable steps toward – and I think it’d fit right in the marketplace.

Now, while it’s easy to bask in my own self-adulation (and the heartfelt congratulations of friends and colleagues, all of whom have helped me massively) at completing this substantive edit… it’s not the final stage. So what do I plan to do now?

  • Take some time away from the new draft. One of the key lessons I learned (and ignored in a way) from On Writing is to let a draft breathe after completion. As a writer, having that objective distance from your work, so it’s not so fresh in your mind to cloud your creative vision, is paramount I’ve found. It helps ease the inevitable self-doubt that will creep in. The Thaw, even in its roughest form, is a good book. In its new form, it’ll be a better book. But it’ll still take effort to make it a great book.

    “With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. And listen–if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”

  • Read it as a reader, than as a writer. I need to let the new draft, when the time comes, soak back in. For the first draft I did partially read over it but I found note-taking at the same time as that initial readthrough was erroneous. So when I re-read the book toward the end of July I will give it a reader’s pass before reading it again and asking myself questions how to improve it.
  • Enlist beta-readers. I’ve approached a few trusted writer friends to read the new draft and I’m designing a feedback questionnaire. I realise the book is a lot for people to mark-up inline comments on, especially to those with day jobs and family lives. But it’s important to me to get help and guidance, to help spot errors I wouldn’t on my own.

    “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

  • Explore professional editorial advice. My friend Gary Thomas has been working on his autobiography for a while. He brought to my attention an organisation called The Literary Consultancy who offer manuscript evaluation and other editorial services. I’m going to get in contact with them once a third draft is complete in August about what services they’d suggest for The Thaw – as I previously stated, I feel it’s worthy of publication and deserves the critical eye of a professional editor. Yes, it’ll be expensive but money well spent in my opinion!

As a learning process, though… there’s been some invaluable and harsh lessons I’ve learned in retrospect. Yes, I am a little regretful that The Thaw has taken so long, but I hope it’s worth it. My confidence as an author – a proper one at that! – just, at this stage, feels so very buoyed and I am excited to get started on the next phase of getting this book in front of people who could make some exciting decisions!

Plus, relief – I can breathe and relax. Enjoy video games and books (hobbies which have suffered as I’ve edited; time management skills there but I’ll go into that later).

Overall though I can’t really express how proud I am of myself for making it this far with The Thaw and I hope to be able to share some more of it soon! If you have any advice, comments or things you think I should know as I enter the next phase of this project then please feel free to send them my way.

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Editing The Thaw – Starting Off!

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Just coming up to a year ago I finally finished the first full draft of The Thaw, a post-apocalyptic thriller novel I started between my second and third years of University. I’d recently read Stephen Kings’s On Writing and, as I finished the draft at some ungodly hour, I recalled a piece of advice:

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
Stephen King – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

King recommends leaving a book to sit for six or so weeks:

“You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

As is unfortunately life, getting around to editing The Thaw, for me, has taken considerably longer. There’s two big reasons for this gap, because I’ve wanted to edit the book for ages:

  • Guilt about working on personal projects while in the final throes of University, where all my creative and productive dragon energy needed to be focused on my work.
  • Self-doubt about my abilities as an editor and a writer, frankly; can I do this work justice?

Happily, both of those issues are moot – my coursework is in and I finally j umped into the editing process. So approximately five chapters in, how do I feel so far about it?

I feel… impatient, honestly. The beginning five or so chapters have taken some intense work but it’s good work too. I’ve some notes I’ve made myself from a readthrough of the first draft – I’ve taken the approach to ask myself questions I want each chapter to answer.

Indeed, re-reading the book after such a time away from writing it (which was an intense process) has allowed me to soak it in afresh. Yes, the opening is the weakest part and taking the most work because I feel that, while I was writing it, I was yet to find my feet in my own work. But what I’ve read later on is some thrilling and, honestly, brilliant stuff. I’m really confident about it because it’s a fantastic story and I want to share it!

So what is my rough plan for the edit? I’m planning to take the time over the next three or four weeks to really get to grips with fixing the deficiencies, foibles, niggles and nags of the first draft, ironing it out into something less… raw from the forge of my mind. Then a week or so off then back to square one for the third pass. Once I get there I’ll have a much better idea of what I want to do with the book going forward, and maybe even share some extracts!

Ah, heck, here’s an extract now! Enjoy!

“Not too much further, Mr. President,” Abercrombie reassured coolly. The moisture seemed to drip around the prefabricated panels loosely lining the corridor. Abercrombie turned to Miller. “We’ve achieved a lot since your last report, Vice-President.”

Miller smiled again. Even the President thought his apparent glee peculiar and looked suspiciously at his junior and deputy. “Excellent. I’m sure the President will be impressed with your results. I knew you were the right choice in this division, David.”

“I do hope I’m about to see tangible results for my investment,” Meadows mused. Abercrombie stopped at the end of the tunnel. Another heavy metal partition blocked the end of the passageway. A door, like before, was here, with a computer next to it. The door was wide, with a viewing hatch punched into the metal.

“Gentlemen,” Abercrombie said lightly, “take your positions.”

Meadows and Miller stood before the closed viewport that was just on eye-level. Abercrombie tapped a few buttons. The noise reverberated into the rock outside. A metal shutter slid with the ticking of a delicate mechanism. Two gasps were audible.

Abercrombie laughed as he watched the dark bodies of the President and the Vice-President almost stick to the wall, transfixed. “Gentlemen, I present to you the future of the American race.”

Why I’m Not Setting a Goodreads Challenge in 2018

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After a pretty unimpressive year’s reading in 2017 I’ve decided that after two years of being an official participant, I won’t be setting myself a Goodreads goal for 2018.

This is not to say I don’t want to read lots of books this year – I do. But I feel the challenge makes it counterproductive, in my case anyway, and it does more to hinder than help me get more quality reading done, so it has to go.

What I’ve noticed most in 2017 is that my reading became two things: anxiety-inducing and very safe, and neither of these things are ideal in a reader, let alone one who wants to become a better writer on the back of that.

Constantly thinking about having to read – even if I didn’t really feel like I wanted to – just to “stay on track” really put me off my reading entirely. I will admit that I cheated toward the end of December, setting my goal back down from 40 to 30 books, which was a total fudge but my anxiety about this did get that bad to the point that I didn’t want to let myself or the system down.

But reading should be a joyous and enjoyable activity, not something that stresses me out or makes me anxious. I noticed that I was getting anxious not because I wasn’t reading, but because I wasn’t reading quickly enough for meeting, or taking days off that adversely impacted, an arbitrary goal.

Reading shouldn’t be reduced to that – and I’m sure my comprehension dropped as I was always… mindful that I was reading to tick another book off the challenge list. And reading shouldn’t be devolved to that level of mechanical feeling, it should be fun and enjoyable and sadly having this figure that I needed to achieve in the back of my mind drove me to not read at all. So I certainly wasn’t enjoying the feeling that I had to churn through books to tick off an arbitrary goal.

As a reader I consider myself more relaxed, but that’s not to say I’m not devoted. I want to give a story my full attention, which is why often I only really read in bed (either before or after sleep), on the couch at home or, funnily enough, on public transport. I can’t really read anywhere as I have to be comfortable; if that makes me a slow reader so be it. To see people finding themselves reading everywhere – not because they want to necessarily, but because they have to for their challenges – is something I can completely relate to. It’s not for me and it sucks the fun out of it!

I also found that I was actively searching out books that would be “easy” to read, and that led my reading to stay very safe, and that’s a shame as part of the fun of reading, and certainly something I want to challenge myself to break out of, is experimenting with books. There’s a fair few books I started in 2017 but couldn’t get on with, and those failures for sure didn’t help with the anxiety. I felt I had to read “safe” books I could breeze quickly through – again, making reading less a leisure activity and more a chore, which is the anthesis of what I want reading to be – just to make up. All in all… it lead to my reading in 2017 being quite disappointing and led to this decision.

That’s not to say I hate Goodreads; it’s a wonderful service that I will continue to use to catalogue my reading and keep track – I find the stats are something that do drive me forward to keep on – but I won’t be setting a formal goal for 2018. I’d rather just make sure I read plenty of books this year, I enjoy them, get something out of them and use them to further my craft.

Therefore I don’t look at not having a reading challenge this year as bad thing, I’m sure it helps a lot of readers push themselves (and, conversely, people have the same experience as I have) but for me it’s not something I will pursue! I’d rather make reading a totally fun pursuit once again, that I can fit in with my life a lot more without the anxiety and stress I was experiencing.

I will be keeping a more informal track of my reading progress throughout the year!

Further reading I discovered in the process of writing this post:

The Bad Side of Goodreads’ Reading Challenge – The Guardian

Why I’m Not Participating In The Goodreads Reading Challenge in 2015 – BookRiot

I’m saying ‘good riddance’ to my Goodreads Challenge – There Were Books Involved

How the Goodreads Reading Challenge Ruined Me as a Reader – Book Reviews & The Written Word

10 Books to Read in 2017 to Improve My Writing

I’ve recently made a good crack at starting my 2017 Goodreads Challenge, upping my goal from 35 to 40 books. Obviously I intend to enjoy this immensely but it’s a good opportunity to approach some books that I feel would be beneficial in reading, not only because they’re great reads but because I feel they’d be a good influence on my own work, especially with my own novel that I am currently working on, The Thaw.

day_of_the_triffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I recall watching a recent television adaptation of this book a few years ago and I enjoyed that, so it makes sense to see the original book. While researching this post I was surprised to see how recent The Day of the Triffids is, originating in the 1950s; reading more ‘classics’ is certainly a goal and I feel the setting – a futuristic England beset by killer plants – is both unique enough a premise to still maintain some relevance today. I certainly am looking forward to seeing how a post-apocalyptic Britain envisaged in the 1950s is realised. Plus, by all accounts, it’s just a cracking read!

the_children_of_menChildren of Men by PD James

Another saw-the-film-ages-ago kind of deal; again, I thought the 2006 film was gripping and appropriately desolate and bleak; archetypal post-apocalyptic fare but the film was effective. The premise, too, of the human race being sterile is close to my own plot elements in The Thaw, where children and genetic engineering are brought together in a quite harrowing way, makes this book almost ‘required reading’ considering what I’m working on.

world_war_zWorld War Z by Max Brooks

Again, this seems almost too trite to be true, considering my own work is currently happily residing in the post-apocalyptic genre, but I figured it’s about time to give this book a go, even as I didn’t manage to watch the film version. This is especially true considering, I believe, it’s almost the go-to when ‘zombie fiction’ is thought of. I’d a while ago discounted the zombie subgenre as almost too derivative to be meaningful anymore but I’m re-approaching my stance and, from what I’ve read, World War Z is a worthy bastion of zombie post-apocalyptic fiction.

battle_royaleBattle Royale by Koushun Takami

The Hunger Games wasn’t a bad series, even if the protagonist was a bit too far along the ‘whiny angsty antihero’ path, but one thing that I feel would’ve done the series credit was more violence. This would truly and effectively show the horror that comes from forcing children into a fight to the death. I’ve been recommended Battle Royale a couple of times because it doesn’t shy away from those kinds of visceral depictions so I’m going to finally grab a copy and see what a ‘proper’ Hunger Games is like.


the_standThe Stand
by Stephen King

Getting into King’s work last year was really good, and I definitely want to read his post-apocalyptic epic The Stand; like with the others on this list, I want to see how these different authors portray their settings and how their characters interact with each other and the wider worlds. King’s thrillers have been pretty atmospheric, creepy and gripping so The Stand is an obvious choice to read. I’m a tiny bit intimidated by The Stand’s length but I’ll overcome that!

the_firemanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

Again, a lot like the other post-apoc books on my list, I want to read The Fireman because it’s a pretty well-regarded outing in the genre that’s been on the periphery of my radar for a while. My goal in reading these books is to sample a good flavour of the variety available in the post-apoc genre so I can better see how my own work fits in! Plus, it’s by Stephen King’s son so it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with King’s work!

on_writingOn Writing by Stephen King

I’ve recently started building a “writer’s library” of books that have advice pertinent to my craft. Again, it’s easy to buy a load of “tip books” but not implement so I’m being picky in which advice books I get. On Writing is cited all the time as a great book in terms of the craft and certainly one I intend to read closely, largely because I’m enjoying discovering King’s work and he writes books that are not-too-dissimilar to my own interests.

a_game_of_thronesA Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I’ve put off reading the Game of Thrones books mainly as the TV show is great, and I didn’t want my viewing of the TV show to cloud my interpretation of the books. However, now I feel quite confidently that enough time has passed that I can finally begin the books. I’ve read snippets and I’ve been pleased with how plain-speaking the books seem to be (this overuse of archaic, twee language that is a common pitfall in fantasy is why I couldn’t finish Assassin’s Apprentice). I’ve generally avoided fantasy, mainly as I feel a lot of fantasy is ultimately derivative of The Lord of the Rings which I controversially find unreadable. However, I feel A Game of Thrones would certainly be useful as a case study in excellent worldbuilding, so I look forward to visiting Westeros in literary form very soon!

19841984 by George Orwell

1984 is a book that sits firmly in the “classics you should’ve read ages ago” category for me, and reading it these days seems awfully relevant and topical. Again, I certainly am interested to see quite how Orwell portrays a dystopian society and I’m sure, as well as being highly enjoyable, it’ll be another strain of dystopian fiction for me to take some notes and inspiration from.

duneDune by Frank Herbert

Dune is another one of those “classic books I should’ve read by now” and I intend to finally get to it. Widely regarded as a science-fiction classic that I actually don’t know a great deal about (apart from how highly it’s regarded), I think the only plausible reason I’ve constantly kicked this one to the kerb is it’s length; however, I’m pretty confident that my reading speed has increased enough that it’s not going to consume too much of my time.

If you want to keep an eye on how I’m getting on with my reading then by all means check out my 2017 Goodreads Challenge page!