First, let me apologise for the typing error in the previous post. I typed ‘whole’ where I should have typed ‘while’, resulting in a sentence that made no sense. Both are actual words, so the spelling checker did not highlight it. The ‘i’ and ‘o’ keys are adjacent to each other on a standard QWERTY keyboard, so it is an easy error to make, not that it is any excuse. Suffice it to say that time was limited, I was in a hurry.
Editing has now begun with a vengeance. As mentioned previously, I have been through the entire text onscreen, correcting errors, deleting unnecessary passages, expanding some and generally trimming. This is like the death of a thousand cuts: a word here, a phrase there, something unnecessarily repeated somewhere else. The result is a sharper, more focused work. But the job is not finished. Far from it. This is where the real editing begins.
I printed out the novel – all 450 pages of it (it was 464 before I began editing) and am now going through it with a fine-tooth comb. It is astonishing how much more you notice when reading it on paper. For example, in the first twenty pages, I discovered that I had made a point, only to effectively repeat it all a couple of paragraphs later. Until that moment, I had not realised. These things happen. I think it is because, when you view the text onscreen, you tend to scan it faster, which can result in things being missed. Paper forces you to read more carefully.
The text is printed out on A4 paper in double-spaced 12-point Arial (Microsoft’s version of the classic Helvetica Sans-Serif font). It is not justified, meaning that the right margin is ragged, and is printed on one side only. This involves quite a lot of paper. There is method in my madness. Arial is quite large and extremely clear. This makes error-spotting much easier than with a serifed font, such as Times New Roman. The double-spacing inserts a blank area between each line, which leaves room for annotations. Printing on one side only allows me to write on the back, should I need to make lengthy changes. I go through the text meticulously, one page at a time, using a coloured highlighter and a black gel pen. Anything that needs to be cut is highlighted. I refer immediately to the onscreen text and transfer the cut to it. If something needs altering, I highlight it and write the alteration in the gap between the lines, in the margin or on the back, depending on how big the alteration is. Each change is transferred to the onscreen version immediately, with Track Changes selected in Word. Track changes highlights every alteration onscreen in red, with an annotation in the right margin and a red line linking them. Working page by page, I can see at a glance where I have made changes, and what the effect on the text has been. I can also reverse, or revise, any of the alterations if I change my mind. Once satisfied that the changes are what was required, I can clear all the annotations and move on to the next page. It is a time-consuming, painstaking process, but it brings dividends. Fortunately, I enjoy editing. There is a real sense of bringing something together and making it whole.
Sooner or later, of course, pages are passed with no alterations. This may be because they are perfectly good as they are, but it may equally be my mind wandering. When I have been through the whole book with the yellow highlighter, I will go over the blank pages with the green, and then over any remaining blank pages with the blue. Then the really critical work starts, but I will leave that for a subsequent post.