Saturday, 30 April 2022

Cutting 'The Cut'

Editing is a special and essential skill for a fiction writer, as I discovered when revising my crime novel, The Cut. And what’s more, it is a skill that requires a lot of practice to develop. In essence, you are learning to look dispassionately at what you’ve written and to think about it forensically. You have to ask yourself a series of difficult questions about your writing. And find the answers that are going to make your book better. Editing is also a very immersive experience. You are focusing on the fine detail of your writing and how well it fits into the overall story. This was very welcome during my long wait for the results of my recent cancer surveillance scan. Editing the manuscript was the only thing that managed to divert my mind from worrying about the threat of recurrence for a few hours. So I did a lot of it. Draft two did work much better than draft one, and ended up being 35,000 words shorter. I then submitted this draft to a professional editor for feedback.

This, however, was another source of anxiety. I felt sure that the editor would be critical of my writing and find many flaws. After all, he was an experienced author with several prize-winning novels to his name. But when the report came, it was quite the opposite. He told me that much of what I’d written worked extremely well. He was very complimentary about the voice and character of my narrator, the relationships between the characters, the witty and believable dialogue and the richly realized setting. I felt a glow of pride as I read on. Then he got to a series of suggestions for improving the book. He felt that the motivations of the characters weren’t consistent in places. He also felt that the book would work better if certain scenes were altered and moved to different positions in the narrative. The final problem he saw was that the book was still too long and needed to be at least 10,000 words shorter.

So I started work on draft three. I began with the structural changes that the editor recommended. These also involved adding several scenes. The main job is now to condense the overall narrative. This means going through the draft again, scene by scene, and cutting out all but the essential elements. Then asking yourself, does the scene work a lot better after these changes? Could it still be improved? How well does it fit with the scenes that precede and follow it? Is the tone consistent with the development of the characters that are in the scene? Are there any continuity problems with the content of the scene? And so on.

I’ve certainly become better at editing. And the draft is improving all of the time. But places where I can cut text are getting harder to find. I’m still a bit away on my word count. So I’ll have to get whittling. And perhaps a little more ruthless.


Sunday, 17 April 2022

Ten Years Young

Today is the tenth anniversary of me blogging about my cancer journey. On 17 April 2012, I was almost one year on from my initial diagnosis, still in severe pain from the huge operation I’d had months previously, still coming to terms with being told I was unlikely to live very long and still trying to make sense of my partner abruptly leaving me. I had recently started getting counselling from Cancer Focus. This was a godsend. But it was only for one hour a week. I was climbing the walls for most of the other 167. I spent many dark hours searching the internet for help with my predicament. I was looking in particular for something from or about men with cancer. But I found nothing much at all. Then I came across a blog by an American cancer patient. It was a revelation. Rick was expressing exactly how I felt. I read back through his previous posts. He spoke about cancer being a deeply disempowering disease. And how speaking out about it had been empowering for him.

This made so much sense to me. I knew that speaking about my experience privately with the counsellor was helping me. So I began to speak about cancer more openly with friends. But most people I tried to talk to about it were unwilling to engage. They tended to close down the conversation by assuring me that I would be alright. Something I regarded as unlikely to be true. I now appreciate that this was because cancer was too fearful a topic for them to pursue. In the end, I decided to emulate Rick Dancer and blog about my own experience. Unsurprisingly, in that first post I wrote about my fear and how everything seemed to have changed for the worse in my life. And with great trepidation, I pressed the button to publish it.

To date, I’ve published 340 blog posts, received 42,695 visits to my blog from readers all over the world, and gained thousands of positive comments. Over the past ten years, I’ve done my best to write openly and honestly about what has been happening in my life. These years have encompassed two recurrences, Stage 4 cancer and more big operations. But not only that. There has been so much more. They have also featured my dearest T, marriage, publishing success, poetry prizes and a lot of good health.

But the greatest accolades I’ve received have come in messages from many individuals living with the Big C, who have found something that spoke to them and was of help in their time of need. Having cancer is like joining a special club. When you are in it, you understand. And when you have been in it, you never forget. Looking ahead, I sincerely hope that this is a club I never have to rejoin.