I must admit this is the bit I most enjoy. Although in a sense I’ve done the hard work when I finish a first draft, and am probably about three quarters of the way through the schedule of a book, when I come to revise it I feel like a sculptor assessing his block of marble – now it is time to make something beautiful from this formless lump.
When I first started writing I’d go over every sentence as I finished it, every paragraph as I finished that, every night’s work before I started the next night, chiselling, tweaking, thinking about how to put things together, order things, cut and rearrange things. I think this was essential practice in developing a style, experimenting with techniques and voice, working out how I wanted to write, what worked and what didn’t. These days I tend to plunge headlong through the drafting and give whole parts a cut and tidy-up when I finish them, but generally leave the revising until later and do it en masse, taking into account the ongoing comments of my editor and readers – a good deal more efficient.
By the time I get to the end of a first draft I’ll (hopefully) have a good idea of where I’m going with the whole thing. It will probably be flabby and in need of heavy cutting, especially at the start. There’ll be occasional chunks of sloppy writing or fudgy event like lumps in a porridge that need cutting or re-writing. Some point of view characters may have changed personality significantly (along with some accompanying development in the way in which I write from their point of view). Descriptive passages often need fine-tuning. Secondary characters may have become much more important as the plot has twisted, while others may have become less important, changed in some way, or can be removed entirely, their lines given to someone else or expunged. Place names might have changed, hints might need to be dropped about future developments. In general the first draft is, especially at the start, inconsistent, messy, not entirely coherent.
In the case of Red Country, of the two central points of view, one worked from the off, and her chapters mostly just needed cutting and sharpening. The other was troublesome from the start, went through two or three radical re-thinks, and it wasn’t until the end I really knew what I wanted to do with him. I ended up re-writing his first chapter, and several of the later ones, about as radically as I’ve ever rewritten anything. In general I’m looking closely for anything that feels loose or unnecessary and can be cut, and I lost about 6,000 words between first and second draft, mostly in the first and second parts out of five, and obviously while putting quite a lot in as well.
When I get to the end of the second draft I’ve hopefully got a leaner, tighter manuscript that’s consistent and coherent all the way through, and is probably not a huge way from the finished product. You might even call it a book. But the work is far from over . . .
Watch this space tomorrow for more!
Joe Abercrombie is a full time writer and occasional freelance film editor who lives in Bath with his wife and three children. You can visit his website for more information, check out the cover for Red Country here, or follow the link to watch the teaser trailer for Red Country. You can pre-order your copy here .