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‘Your book needs time to percolate in your brain’

‘Your book needs time to percolate in your brain’

So, you’ve written a book. Hooray! Time to call the agents in and get it out to any and all readers as soon as possible, right? *Family Fortunes buzzer* Sorry, that’s not on the board.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the law of averages overwhelmingly suggests that what you have in fact written is a first draft. Basically, you’ve made the furniture, but you haven’t sanded it, painted it and varnished it yet, and until you’ve done that you can’t really expect anyone else to want to bring your creation home with them (I, for example, should redraft this very stretched metaphor).


For many writers redrafting is one of the most psychologically difficult parts of the process, because you have to look at your book with fresh eyes and attempt to be as objective as possible about what’s working, what’s not, and how you can change it. It’s doubly difficult because, as William Faulkner said, you have to be ready to ‘kill all your darlings’. It can be ruthless, redrafting – because it’s not about what you love, and which bits of writing you think are absolutely perfectly formed and are really proud of having created, it’s about what your book loves: what it needs to tell the story you’re trying to tell in the best way possible, and, by default, what it doesn’t need.


So how do you go about it? Well, my first bit of advice would be: give yourself a break. Don’t jump straight back in the moment you’ve planted the last full stop – your book needs time to percolate in your brain, and you’ll be amazed at how knotty problems can sometimes iron themselves out with a little space.


Next, I’d say allow enough time. Remember that redrafting is a big part of the process. If you see it as an afterthought it will feel like admin, and it’s not; it’s still writing, and it needs you to be just as creatively engaged as you were the first time round.


Third: look at the big picture. Going through changing the odd word isn’t redrafting, it’s polishing. There’s a time and place for that (and you can do it now if you like), but right now the questions are bigger: is the plot working? Are the characters who they need to be? Is the voice right? Are you being swept away by this story? Perfectly polished prose can never make up for those things.


And finally, don’t be afraid of cuts. Computers are marvellous inventions. Cut whole sections out if you’re not sure you need them. Re-read it. If you decide it was a mistake just press CTRL+Y and hey presto, it’s back! Just make sure you save the different versions of your work – it’s an ongoing process and you never know if you might want to go back to something, or use it in a different way.