The Editing Mill


Despite the fact that the cover and blurb are done and announced to the world, work continues to push Black Hearts Rising over the finish line.

As most writers will know, editing can be hell. Sure, it’s a feeling of immense satisfaction when you finish your book, having improved your story from its humble first draft, shaping the narrative and sharpening the voices. It can be a real grind, pushing your work through the editing mill, but it can also be fun as well, and editing my books has produced some comedy moments that I thought it would be worth sharing with you.

The first thing to note is that my editor is non other than Rachel, my 17-year old youngest daughter.  Whilst she’s generally a lot quicker than me in terms of spotting typos, the difference between the mind of a grumpy 50 year-old writer and his much younger daughter can throw up some interesting situations. Here’s a good example, at least five variations of which have cropped up during the editing of Monkey Arkwright and the new book:-

“she looked at me through the gap between door and frame”

Rachel questioned whether I was missing one or two “thes”. Having assured her that the above text was perfectly acceptable parlance, I set off to consult Uncle Google. Unusually, in this case I was correct, and although the results did not turn up any appearance of the phrase in a Dickens’ classic, the fact that it appeared in a carpentry thread on the Screwfix community forums was good enough for me!

I make a lot of mistakes with my initial drafts, and I’ve noticed that two mistakes I repeat time and again are:-

  1. Using or instead of of
  2. Using the instead of to

It’s not that I don’t know the correct word, but when I’m typing, my brain always seems to be a few words ahead of my fingers. Whilst the first is an easy mistake to eradicate (simply searching for the the), the second is more difficult to spot, and if it were not for my editor, the reader would be treated to nonsensical gems such as:-

We must have looked like a right pair or lemons

The he old railway bridge

I spied a lawn mover

we’d had a spot lunch

Ste Stephen’s church

Less common is a missing vital comma. A close inspection of one sentence saved me from writing a War of the Worlds-style epic that involved trestle table eating sausages. The image of a giant sausage that eats wooden furniture set my brain off on a whole different train of thought! The introduction of the comma returned the scene to the real word, where somebody was simply “sitting at a trestle table, eating sausages.”

In addition to the usual poor brain-to-finger coordination, some mistakes creep into my words due to my day job as a software engineer. I often type wake up as wakeup, due to the latter’s use as a technical term in communication protocols. More than once, when writing a social media post telling people about my debut novel, I have typed my debug novel, which I can assure you, would be a lot less fun to read!

For all the obvious mistakes that can be spotted in editing, there are sometimes when Rachel and I just sit there, not knowing what the correct resolution is. Getting everything technically correct, cross-referencing grammar rules from multiple websites, can be a real grind and is probably the least fun part of the process of creating a novel. Although it’s time-consuming and tedious, l am quite content to go through a few chapters a night, adding and removing commas. But to sit discussing the merits of a colon for more than five minutes gives me the feeling that I’m losing valuable writing time, my fingers getting increasingly itchy. For all the rights and wrongs of grammar, at the end of the day, you just want your words to flow, and to aid the reader’s enjoyment of the story. What I’m saying is that sometimes you just have to go with your gut, as this little exchange shows:-

Rachel (head in her hands): It’s either a colon or a semi-colon.

Me: What works best?

Rachel: I don’t know, but it’s definitely one of the two.

Me (patience wearing thin): I’m happy with a semi-colon.

Rachel: If you’re not sure, go with a dash!

I’d like to think that overall, my grammar is pretty good once it’s gone through the editing mill, and if a few mistakes do creep through, then I can content myself with the knowledge that I have put a lot of effort into the editing process. Here’s a rough summary of the process of editing Black Hearts Rising:

  1. I finish the first draft. At this stage, the beautiful story that I had in my head is just an ugly lump of clay on the wheel.
  2. I read through the first draft (at the computer), making notes on what needs changing. At this stage, there are a lot of typos that I correct as well.
  3. I make the changes. My story vaguely resembles something that will hold liquid at this stage.
  4. I read through the updated manuscript (still at the computer), correcting typos, of which there are still plenty at this stage.
  5. I make more changes. That’s better, it’s coming together now.
  6. I transfer to my Kindle and read through once again. At this stage, I’m getting really bored of my own work! Self-doubt creeps in: I’m sure I’ve used this exact phrase before – wait, no, I’m just remembering it from the previous read-through! There are still a few typos, but less than before.
  7. I go through my Kindle notes, updating the manuscript once more. My story is beginning to flow like I imagined now, I could almost call it a work of art! I realise there may still be some tiny imperfections, but surely, I’m nearly there now? Apparently not.
  8. I hand over the manuscript to Rachel and my friend Darrin.
  9. The good news is that both Rachel and Darrin are enjoying the story, and even better, there are no gaping plot holes! The bad news is that they’ve spotted a whole host of errors that, shamefully, I haven’t yet spotted despite reading the damn thing three times!
  10. I sit with Rachel and we update the manuscript, based on the comments provided by my two readers. As I sit and look at my work, I like the look of what I’ve produced. I’m really hoping that at this stage, any imperfections are minute (and invisible to the reader!).

This is the stage that I’m at now. Due to my commitment to save the eyes of my readers by filtering out all of the hideous grammatical tomfoolery, I still have the following stages to complete before publication:-

  1. Set up Microsoft Word’s text-to-speech to read the entire book back to me – a good way to spot any obvious remaining grammatical mistakes. I should have done this on the first draft.
  2. Yet another read-through on my Kindle.
  3. Repeat steps 1 & 2 until error-free.

Probably time for a rest over Christmas before I work my way through this final stage of editing!

Just a reminder that Black Hearts Rising will be released on Amazon Kindle in early February 2019.


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