Editing, and More

August 20th, 2013

The dream with this new trilogy was to gloriously complete a draft of the second book and a detailed plan for the third by the end of the year, therefore 6 or 7 months before publication of the first book, leaving time enough to edit the first book in the light of all I had learned about the series.  I hadn’t thought through this very clearly, however (surprise, surprise).  Because this is a new style of work, with new publishers wanting the attention of a wider spread of critics, authors, booksellers, and other advance readers, some of whom won’t have heard of me before, they want to get Advance Reader Copies (Otherwise called ARCs, proofs, or galleys) out before the end of the year.  That means having a fully edited, finished, polished manuscript by end of September.  There’ll probably be the opportunity to make a couple of changes after that point, if the way the future books are developing necessitates a pointer or an addition, but the heavy lifting needs to be done over the next few weeks.

I have at least got a good 20,000 word draft of the first part of the second book, and a reasonable plan for the rest, and doing that much has given me some new characters and world details that need to be slipped into the first book, some concepts that maybe need a little development, and some different emphases on existing characters that will be important later.  I’ve taken that stuff, along with a few things that I’ve thought of myself, and collected it together with the opinions of five or six various readers and editors, and sorted it all into a list of changes in three categories.  First of all come significant specific changes – things like an additional exchange to deepen the relationship between two characters, or that a decision should be made by the central character rather than be a suggestion of a secondary one, or that the death of a certain character isn’t having the desired effect, and needs looking at again to see if it can impact more on the characters and therefore the reader.  These ones I’ll address first, hopefully this week.

Next come more general tweaks, still important, but not necessarily to be implemented in a certain place – so a greater sense of urgency about the development of a sub-plot, or a relationship that needs to be given a different emphasis or extra significance.  Finally there are minor points which might be addressed wherever appropriate, often details of worldbuilding or background which just need dropping in somewhere.  These two groups I’ll try and do in the next couple of weeks while reading through.

Making changes is always a bit tricky.  The text has a tendency to ‘set’ once you’ve read it a few times, it’s hard to bring yourself to break it all up again.  Although you made all this stuff up, and can make any change you like, I find I get into a mindset of, ‘I can’t change that, that’s what happened.’  But it’s generally wise to carefully weigh every comment and address them wherever you can.  Often you find your own way of addressing a comment which you’re much happier with than a suggestion.  You can often kill several birds with one well-judged change.  A few lines of careful dialogue can introduce backstory, add depth to secondary characters, deepen and complicate their relationships with the primary, change pace, add telling detail etc. etc.  The more the whole story and the various issues to address are present in your mind, the more you’re submerged in the book, the better your chances of editing effectively.

There’ll be a quick pass through to attend to my editor’s detailed mark-up, which often means taking out phrases hear or there to move things along, or adding some small point of clarification.  I personally hate tracking changes in Word, I find it really hard to properly read over and judge what things look like once the change is made, and the differences in font and format really freak me out, so I generally have two documents up together – one with the edits and one with my document as I’ve worked on it throughout.  Finally another go over, probably with the text made really big on the screen, just to smooth things out and improve the writing where anything occurs.  Big text, who can say, helps me to look at it differently sometimes, to consider the details.

It ain’t that long a book, so hopefully that’ll all be done over the next three weeks or so.


Posted in process, progress by Joe Abercrombie on August 20th, 2013.

30 comments so far

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    Very interesting and insightful. I’m going to take credit for this post after my question to you on twitter yesterday asking how you plan for three books… (although that credit is likely unfounded, but I’m just greedy like that).

    What happens if you come to write the third book and have a significant change, but the 1st is in print? Do you just clench your teeth and throw the idea aside, or would you implement it within the second book instead?

  • Badger says:

    “hear or there”?

    Why am I so pedantic?

  • Shecky says:

    “I personally hate tracking changes in Word, I find it really hard to properly read over and judge what things look like once the change is made, and the differences in font and format really freak me out”

    There’s a box in the bar at the top of your Word window that’s showing one of Original, Original Showing Markup, Final Showing Markup, and Final. It’s almost certainly set to Final Showing Markup, which in a nutshell shows the edits overlaid on the original text. I agree that it’s far from an intuitive, easy-to-understand format, which is why I was told to check afterwards with the aforementioned box set to Final, in order to see what the text will look like after all the changes are implemented (or not implemented, if STET is your friend 🙂 ).

    Might help.

  • Self Important Duck says:

    How do you intend to embrace the new style while still holding onto the roots of grimdark?

  • fiona lloyd says:

    I am currently in the latter stages of writing a 30 player live action role play game. I have done this in fits and starts over the last 8 months but its going to be run in November so I have to get stuck in and finish it.
    The main difference between this genre and a novel is that its like standing in a hall of mirrors. You are at the centre and you have to write everything multiple times from the perspective of each character. In finished form this is a character sheet for each player detailing the background of their character, their involvement in each plot and what they know about the other characters in the game. You also have to write each plot in full for the information of the Refs and include any written extras which will be given to the players during the game (letters, reports, other clues).
    I don’t really have a plan. I know many of my friends who do this have a method but I tend to just keep everything bouncing around in my head. On balance I think you may be more sensible than I am.

  • Dano says:

    You still work on MS Word? That’s awful. Try Ywriter (free) or other softwares for novel writers (scrivener is one little jewel). You might think that the software doesn’t really affect much the writing process, but it does.

  • Anne Lyle says:

    That’s the trouble with selling a series – it suddenly has to march to the timetable of other people, and to hell with the creative process! I was very nearly late with Book 3 because I’d painted myself into a plot corner with the previous two, so I feel your pain.

    Good luck with the edits!

  • rob says:

    Thanks for the post on this topic Joe. I’m currently writing my first book (finally) and am seriously struggling with the “it’ll get fixed in edits” mentality. I’m such a perfectionist, it makes it difficult to move on in my first draft without immediately going back and tweaking.

  • Alex says:

    I do love reading these. Any idea if it will be released in hardback?

  • Gabriele says:

    Frank, we’ll have to share the credit because I asked Joe about his editing process on Twitter, too. 🙂

    And jeesh, after several years of dabbling with that writing thing, it never occured to me to use two documents; the original and the one with the changes. That may partly be due to the fact I edit while I go, but it should solve the ‘rewrite or edit’-problem of that pesky scene that’s given me grief for longer than any scene should. Rewrite in a new document and compare. Thank you, Joe.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well, if the book’s in print, you’re kinda stuck with whatever’s there. Guess you assess whether you can get away with or explain a change, or give up on it.

    My editing process on blog posts is less exhaustive.

    Problem is everyone else uses word. That is, the edits come back in word.

    I used to tweak obsessively. I think that’s healthy when you’re working out the basics and experimenting with your own style. As you get more confident you become more organised in your editing. That’s more efficient but less reassuring.

    Half a King will be hardback in UK and US, yes.

    Call me antediluvian, but I actually prefer to work with a hand-marked script. My brain just processes it better.

  • sword1001 says:

    I’d love to see some real examples of this tweeking – obviously not from Half A King, but from your previous works.

  • Gru'ud says:

    ” … it’s hard to bring yourself to break it all up again.”

    I feel your pain on this one. I’m considering rearranging where a couple of major flashbacks fall, then I look at the TOC and the chapter lengths and how much more tweaking I’ll have to do to balance it all out again and …

    Well, you know the dril.

    As someone else has said, these are my very favorite LordGrimDark posts, FWIW. Thanks for the glimpse into your process.

  • Iangr says:

    @sword1001 what a splendid idea!I second that!

    Would it be possible to give us a “corrected” page(s) from your earlier books?

    Pretty please?

  • Gabriele says:

    A few marks won’t solve this particular problem, I suspect. I like the way I inserted the landscape through which they ride, and I like the voice of the centurion, but my MC is off. Changing a few words here and there never worked. So now I’m going to rewrite the whole bloody dialogue – and only the dialogue – in a new document, and then put the landscape stuff back in if I can do it seamlessly. Maybe that’ll do the trick.

    If not, I’ll have Lucius killed by the Sassanids during his escape so he doesn’t need to tell anyone about it later. Heh.

  • Hillsy says:

    “As you get more confident you become more organised in your editing.”

    The reverse happened with me, which is why I stopped writing (or trying to write). First couple of trunk novels I whizzed through – They were pretty awful.

    But once I realised I was actually getting pretty good (say 80% of publication quality), the more I editted as I went along because I was spotting mistakes almost as I wrote them. Then I was editting mid-sentence. Then as I formulated sentences in my head ready to write……

    …..Yeah in the end I was writing about a paragraph an hour – that’s not fun.

  • Gabriele says:

    you should try Nano in November. Tie and gag that internal editor of yours and hand him over to Glokta for 30 days. He may be more tractable when you get him back in December.

    Worked for me, though I admit I need to fight the bugger a bit more the last month*. But November isn’t that far away and I’ll do Nano again. If one can find a group of others doing it along (online or real life), it’s easier to indeed ignore Mr. IE.

    * Though the edit problem mentioned above is one I need to do, not some fiddling instead of getting the damn words out. The scene is wrong and I need it to be right in order to continue with the character arc in a stisfactory way.

  • Chevi77 says:

    Completely out of bounds but, have you heard about Elmore Leonard?? I seem to remember you were an admirer…

  • “Well, if the book’s in print, you’re kinda stuck with whatever’s there.”

    No, no, no! You wait 10 years and then release a “10th Anniversary Edition (Now With The Author’s Preferred Text!)” 🙂

  • Gabriele says:

    Lol, in case of GRRM that would mean a version with the kids 5 years older in book one, and no Crows and Dance. 🙂

  • David List says:

    Very interesting look into your process. I’m currently editing as well. And I, too, have two Word docs open at once. (helps to have two monitors… laptop is shit for this)
    I keep a list in a notepad on my phone of all the small changes that need to happen, particularly fixing inconsistencies or enriching the world.
    It didn’t occur to me that once your audience is in place, the concrete must dry considerably earlier. That’s scary. I have huge commitment issues.

  • Hillsy says:


    Cheers for the advice, but I’ve tried Nano a couple of times and generally speaking the same thing happened (generally after hitting the 30-40K mark a fortnight in). I liken it to fractals – you can zoom in and find the same things time and again, just on different scales. It’s cool, I’ve made my peace with it.

    My more general point was that for some people, actually progressing through the “I’m finding my may” stage throws up a tonne of new ways for the writing/editing relationship to implode.

    Joe has a system that clearly works brilliantly – The first law is as good a series as I’ve read since, probably, the Nights Dawn trilogy. But others with a more fluid approach to editing can and will find them spiraling into a fractal vortex of editing and inertia. So I guess it’s also advice to Rob that perhaps in his case the organisation might not come organically with confidence, and that he might have to intervene with himself before he slips past the event horizon.

  • Gabriele says:

    @ Hillsy,
    sorry to hear you got caught in that editing circle so badly. I can relate since I tend to overthink my writing, too. Fortunately, I’ve found some ways around it and second, I’ve accepted that I just am a slow writer and edit while I go. What I’m getting better at is to distinguish between fiddling around and edits I need to do in order to continue. Works for GRRM, after all. 😉 The one advantage of not (yet?) being published is that I don’t have to fight any Deadline Dragons.

    I think accepting your personal process is part of the learning curve. There’s too much advice around; that can become confusing and crippling.

    BTW, if you have those perfect sentences in your mind before you get them down, perhaps some speech software could help. Dictate your novel instead of writing it.

    Aplogies to Joe for hijacking his blog.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Oh, hijack away.

    As you say, every writer is different and has a different process. You have to try stuff out and see what works for you, which is why it took me maybe three years to write my first book. For that matter, every project is different. These much shorter books are clearly a lot easier and less involved to edit. Plunging ahead with a draft is more efficient, but it also leaves problems behind you and encourages you to doubt what you’re doing. Editing a lot as you go can make you happier with what you’ve got and maybe inform where you’re going, but it’s not until you get to the end that you’ll really have an idea of how things need to develop earlier on. You’ve got to find your own balance.

  • What are the chances of a Steven Pacey narrated audiobook for this trilogy, Joe?

  • Gabriele says:

    Thanks, Joe.

    I think I’m getting close to my ideal balance now. I’ve also learned that I’m not an outliner despite some outcry of “but you can’t write historical fiction without outlining.” Yes, I can. 😛

    There’s no rules, only guidelines.

  • Deb E says:

    “Call me antediluvian, but I actually prefer to work with a hand-marked script. My brain just processes it better.”
    — Exactly! I’m all for saving the trees and all, but working on real paper makes a big difference! I also prefer handwriting as much as possible. At time, the ideas flow fast enoguh that typing is more efficient, but on an average day, handwriting lets me dig deeper on that first pass – ultimately more efficient.

    “Plunging ahead with a draft is more efficient, but it also leaves problems behind you and encourages you to doubt what you’re doing…”
    — Yes! This is what I’m struggling with at the moment, and is why I stop to edit scenes I’m fairly confident will survive the final cut (though I don’t bother with scenes I’m still um-ing and ah-ing over).

    These windows into your process are really inspiring (if distracting).

  • Chris says:

    Whew! After reading the first few sentences I thought this was shaping up to be a ‘books will be delayed 6 months +’ type of post.

    Best luck to you in the editing process Joe.

  • Jacob says:

    “Half a King”…

    Main POV sounds like someone related to Jezal.

  • […] raptor recently linked me to a blog post by Joe Abercrombie about his editing process, in which he makes a very good point […]

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