The Long Dark Tunnel

I am editing, and I hate editing.

While I haven’t yet suffered from writer’s block, editing four books in a row is unbearable. I’m midway through book 4, so tearing my eyes out seems like an attractive alternative to my current situation. It feels like my book is better with every pass, but the number of changes makes me wonder if it’s not ready for public consumption. The few beta readers are enjoying my stories, but I can’t read them without changing every sentence, every paragraph. It feels like I’m improving, but evidence suggests I’m working laterally.

I’m shortening lots of my sentences, trying to simmer my narrative into quicker punches. I’m removing unnecessary words, phrases, and while I’m getting better, editing isn’t fun. It’s mechanical—like checking math on hairy equations and finding mistakes on every step of a problem.

The good news is, I think my first few books are ready for open beta readers, but I don’t want to uncork that genie until I have book 5’s first draft finished. Supporting a Patreon page seems like a lot of work. The other good news is the amount of “bread crumbing” I’m able to do is insane. Whenever I have a great idea in later books, I drop hints and build set-ups early, so the story holds together and resolutions don’t come from out of the blue. I can’t imagine writing a series any other way.

This quarterly update on my author’s blog is yet another stalling tactic before renewing my hateful journey into editing. The story itself is enjoyable, but it’s hard to appreciate while fixing grammar and language problems.

My first draft is an incomprehensible mess of ideas, and perhaps that’s a bad habit—but this series is far more complicated than most. My disorganized writing comes from my fear of forgetting something, so I put everything down, like throwing spaghetti at a wall, to be cleaned up later.

Why is my writing so messy? Consider most story-tellers only need to remember a sequence of events. I’m doing this while tracking the progression of stats, spells, and base-buildings—all of which change as the story progresses. Part of my job is maintaining accurate use of cooldowns, character levels, and everyone’s equipment. I have to give characters new spells and goodies along the way. They have to be exciting, but none of them can be so useful that they trivialize scenes later down the road. Combat is especially difficult to write because the character powers are in a constant state of flux.

When there are so many narrative details to remember, things like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and paragraph structure are things to be sorted out later.

Here’s an example. A random, relatively uncomplicated paragraph from the chapter 16, book 4.

With the imminent completion of our fourth roundhouse, Ally and I had agreed to make defense courses mandatory for everyone in Hawkhurst. These would probably be much like the classes we took in Belden’s academy, but I was looking forward to seeing the arena in full use. We decided everyone would train one day for every two days working.

This is the state of my second draft. It’s horrible, right? I’m merely giving readers an update of a town’s progress, but I’m so focused on the accuracy of my references (Belden classes, the citizens’ state of training, Hawkhurst’s build order) that my language describing it is downright awful. In contrast, when I’m writing playful dialog or sorting out a character’s emotions, the narrative is far easier and cleaner. Unfortunately, most of The Book of Dungeons relates to game mechanics.

Here’s the same paragraph, cleaned up.

When we completed the fourth roundhouse, Ally and I made weapons training mandatory for all Hawkhurst citizens. Workers rotated twice a week into introductory courses, similar to what we studied in Belden, and it was gratifying to see the battle college in full use.

It’s easier to read, more descriptive, and shorter.

Editing includes eliminating weak phrases like had agreed to and was looking forward to and would probably be much like. I combine and reorder thoughts so they better relate and flow into one another. I remove unnecessary words like academy and repeated words like everyone. Shortening phases is important. Instead of one day for every two days, I wrote twice a week. It’s close enough and easier to parse.

The tough part isn’t implementing these issues, it’s identifying them—rereading everything until the proper order becomes apparent. How long would this take you to rewrite this 44-word paragraph to the level of polish where there is no room for improvement? 15 minutes? A half hour? Imagine editing 6,000 words a day, seven days a week.

Some people think writing fantasy books concerns fruity decisions, like whether your character rides a dragon into battle. Far from it, friends. In my experience, it’s grinding through these persnickety issues is what my life it like. It sucks, but it’s part of the job.