Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The very wise and lovely Julie Cohen calls the self-doubt stage of writing a book 'the crows of doubt'. You know, the bit where you're convinced the book you're writing is terrible, that the characters are one-dimensional and unsympathetic, that your plot is nonsensical and has more holes in it than Blackburn, Lancashire, that none of your jokes are funny and that your mystery plot isn't mysterious.

I rarely feel like this while actually writing.

I feel like this whenever I have to revise a book.

This is Quoth, the raven. All right, so I don't have a soft toy crow.

I know a first draft is generally terrible. I don't mind that. I can go back and fix problems, rewrite the bad stuff, cut the really bad stuff, and generally make the book something I'm not ashamed to put my name to. But all of this is before anyone else has seen the book.

An editor's job is to make the book better. Put another way, her job is to find all the flaws in the book. Put another way, her job is to find all the many, many ways in which your book sucks, and point them out to you.

Put another way: her job is to make you wish you'd decided to clean toilets for a living, instead of writing.

This is the stage I'm at now. Actually this is the stage I was at in September, but my book is so bad we're on the fifth round of revisions, and my conclusions are thus:

  • I'm not funny.
  • My characters are inconsistent.
  • My mystery plot could be solved in five minutes, if only the right person asked the right question on page forty.
  • I'm really not funny.
  • Any lines I believe to be lovely, concise, beautiful in their simplicity, aren't the poetry I believe them to be, but are in dire need of more exposition before they can make sense.
  • I don't know anything about automatic cars, or house construction, or MI5.
  • I'm going to offend people who like The X Factor.
  • I'm really, really not funny.

The thing about edits is that I know the editor doesn't hate me, or my book, and wants to make it all better...so I ought to listen. But I also know whose name is going on the front of the book, and even though I'd really like it to be Alan Smithee at this point, I know it's going to be mine. There are lines in some of my books that the editor put in despite my protests, just to explain something. And they make me cringe, because they're not lines that I wrote and they're not lines I like. But anyone reading the book won't know that. They'll think I wrote those lines. And here's the problem: I don't know if the reader will read those lines and think, "Thank God she explained that, because I had no idea what it meant," or if they'll think, "Well, thank you Captain Obvious, for beating me over the head with that explanation."

Because here's the big thing I'm learning from edits:

  • My readers aren't psychic. 
  • But neither am I.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some toilets to clean.


  1. Anonymous3:05 p.m.

    Kate- have to say I enjoy reading these, let's go with "musings" almost as much as I enjoy your books ;) Please continue writing tho, as I don't believe I'd enjoy your toilet cleaning quite as much..hm..maybe if it were the toilets in my home.. No. Even if it meant I didn't have to clean anymore, I'd still prefer you write. Please and thank you.

  2. I hate non-me lines in any of my stories with a passion. Even if they make sense. Because they aren't mine.

    On another note, I have read a lot of your books and (a) you are very funny indeed (b) you can so plot (c) the reason the right question wasn't asked on page forty was because that's how you have designed the characters!

    Quoth is awesome.

  3. They caw at you, like ravens. "You didn't write me, you didn't write me! And I don't belong here."

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys. I need it right now.

    And yes. Quoth is the epitome of awesome.

  4. AmeliaElias6:20 p.m.

    YOU ARE FUNNY. Go reread Widget Bones's Diary, madam, and then tell me that you are not funny. (Okay, so I helped some, but still.) YOU ARE FUNNY!

    I am going to sneak over to your house and tattoo this on your forehead while you sleep. Er... actually, probably not, because a flight from Texas to the UK is not cheap and that might count as assault punishable by law and all that, but anyway. You get the idea. YOU ARE FUNNY.

    Now go buy a combination bed/toilet.