Adding quality/value to writing

Half a dozen prolific writers of various genres recently had an interesting Teams conversation about edits and the editing process, and I was fortunate to be involved. We discussed what that process looked like in our worlds. Most in the group subscribed to a simple (but incorrectly-labelled) process:

  • write
  • self-edit
  • write
  • self-edit (continue ad nauseam until…)
  • send manuscript to editor
  • discuss/agree/make changes as appropriate
  • manuscript to the typesetter/formatting
  • publish

I confessed to the group that I am a serial editor (this isn’t much of a confession to anyone who knows me). I am never happy with my manuscript, no matter how many hands it has passed through. I can’t ever view my writing as ‘finished’. My take on it is my writing is so poor it can always be improved and, as a serial editor, I’m always looking to achieve that improvement, even if it’s just removing or adding a comma. Surprisingly, I was the only one who felt this overriding compulsion to the level of approaching a psychosis.

I said I felt the editing process wasn’t as linear as they made out (and this is probably because of the internal driver that keeps me in peak serial editor mode). I also felt that the editing process doesn’t begin when everyone else said it did. I tried to put together a timeline to show what I mean.

  • write
  • self-review
  • write
  • self-review (etc, until completion)
  • whole manuscript review, make corrections, updates, and rewrites
  • whole manuscript read aloud, make corrections, updates, and rewrites
  • manuscript to editor
  • discuss/agree/make changes as appropriate (or not make changes!)
  • whole manuscript review
  • send manuscript to Kindle
  • read, photograph Kindle pieces that need changing
  • self-edit and rewrite as required
  • manuscript to the typesetter/formatting
  • publish

For me, there are two take-aways here. The first is that although every step adds value, the two most fundamental steps are to send the manuscript to my Kindle, and then to conduct a full author self-edit/rewrite. I am not able to explain it fully, but reading my (draft) manuscript on the Kindle adds another dimension that reading a Word document doesn’t.

The second point is that I don’t consider anything to be an edit until I have sent the manuscript to my editor (edit point #1 in my world), and when I conduct the post-Kindle edit/rewrite (edit point #2). Everything before edit point #1 is no more than a self-review; they’re just tweaks on the page, and shouldn’t be seen as an edit.

Of course, other views are available on this, and I’ll continue to listen to writers who have those other views. Except, of course, I know I’m right on this and they probably aren’t.


The second most common question I get asked is ‘How do you keep track of everything when you’re writing your book?’, and that’s a really good question. My neighbour asked this, just a couple of months ago.

I’m going to answer it by asking a slightly different question, and there’s a good reason for this. ‘What things do I want to track as I’m writing the book?’ In no particular order the answer is:

  • Word count (cumulative)
  • Word count (by chapter)
  • Word count (projected to completion)
  • Primary characters
  • Secondary characters
  • Plot items (and their triggers)
  • Timeline against the story arc
  • Versions

All of these enable me to answer the first question (How do you keep track of everything when you’re writing your book?). Without these, frankly, I couldn’t keep track. I’d get lost down a rabbit hole, or I’d veer off track. Or I’d just sit here all day watching bad films on the TV.

So to keep me on the straight and narrow I have a tool I refer to every single day I’m writing. It’s a little database I wrote. It has some date triggers and some activity-based alerts, but I key in the data and it monitors things for me. I could use a native spreadsheet, but then I’d lose the trigger and alerting capability and, frankly, that would not be helpful.

So, on a writing day, I fire up my little database, I deal with any alerts, I input the day’s progress and, if the day’s progress causes anything to pop up, I deal with the time-based triggers.

I took an export of some of the data for you. That export dumped the data into a spreadsheet. I tidied up the spreadsheet with some colours and a few other formatting tweaks, to make it easier to read. And then I took a screenshot of the spreadsheet.

You can see (below) the cols and rows, and the tabs of the export. This is my database. This is what keeps me on track. Let me explain some of the details.

The columns headed ‘V’ are version. I only switch to a new version when there has been a major rewrite, as in the case below. When the wordcount is green, it’s been edited three times, twice by me and once by my editor. You can see how the wordcount changed in the rewrite.

The Identifier column contains my primary characters and a breakdown of what they’re up to/where they’re up to it. In the database these are distinct fields, but this output concatenates them. This ‘running together’ is only an inconvenience in the export, so I’ll live with it.

The total column is my cumulative wordcount, the WordCount column relates to each chapter. And the two Timeline tabs at the foot, monitor the original timeline I set, and monitor progress against that timeline/time left to run. My plot items (and their triggers) are in the second Timeline tab, which is a report of progress to date and items outstanding.

And that’s it. That’s the answer to the second most common question I get asked. Has this been helpful?

Lazy writing

The topic I’m going to talk (see also: ‘moan’) about today has got me fired up and riled, and, and, and… a tad annoyed.

The Internet is a place of great goodness, and terrible harm. It allows the best, and the worst of us, to move, digitally, around the planet as if we are all equals which, in obvious ways, is exactly what we are not. But we all put effort into this thing called life, so that’s a point of equality in itself, yes?

This equality might be effort to achieve things. Or it might be effort avoiding achieving things. Not looking at any teenagers at this point. But that doesn’t matter. It’s still effort. I don’t believe anybody does nothing in life, and I don’t think that’s just an over-optimistic thought.

To pick up a pen or bang away at a keyboard and write a sentence, well, that takes effort. Heck, mentally composing the sentence in the first place takes effort. And there was probably some thinking effort put in to it, even before the general structure of that sentence was determined.

So why would anyone pick up a device and compose a badly thought-out and incomplete sentence, then read it, think that it’s good enough, approve it, and post it on the Internet? I’ve seen a lot of this lately and it seems to be a growing trend. Let me explain.

I hang around on some writing/writers forums. I’m chiefly there to learn, rather than participate, because there are people in these places who are brighter, and considerably more experienced, than I.

As is the custom in these places, new arrivals announce themselves to the group, with a few self-directed words, sentences, or paragraphs.

Early last week a new arrival announced he was a starting-out writer from the Bay Area. I was on to him like an enthusiastic puppy. ‘Oh, I love Sydney. I’ve sailed with the RANSA at Darling Point. Do you live anywhere near Milk Beach?’ The starting-out writer came back and said he meant the San Francisco, California, Bay Area.

OK, so there’s two things here. Firstly his introduction was constructed on the egregiously false assumption that everyone, in a global readership on the Internet, would know which Bay Area on the entire planet he was talking about. Secondly this enthusiastic puppy immediately leapt to one of the Bay Areas in which he’s spent pleasurable time.

It could be argued that I should have immediately homed in on Cardiff Bay, Conwy Bay, Cardigan Bay, or even the Bay of Biscay, all of which I also have experience. But it was a cold and miserable UK summer’s day, and even in midwinter, Sydney is a great (and warm) place.

In defence of this enthusiastic puppy, though, I wouldn’t have made such a geographical boo-boo if the sloppy introduction hadn’t been constructed with the care and attention to detail of a toddler feeding themselves soup. Care and attention to detail being implements the starting-out writer should already have in their toolset.

I’m not singling out this person (well, I am really). But this mindset of ‘the readership really should know what I’m on about, without me having to make it clear to them’ seems to be a growing trend, particularly amongst Americans.

Yesterday, on another forum, a writer said they were from the Midwest. Because I’m not a complete dunce, I deduced that the Midwest this person was highlighting was likely to be the one in the United States of America.

But why would this person assume that everyone on the planet, who reads that forum (the majority of whom are neither American, nor likely to be native English/American speakers) can intuitively understand what the writer is trying to say? Is it a lack of awareness? Or is it laziness?

I’m with Deadpool on this.


Lately, I’ve been making terrific progress with the first prequel to Tempest. I had 35k words down in semi-edited prose, the story arc was planned out, the characters were documented, there were three lovely plot twists, and a strong wrap-up. And then two unrelated things happened.

The first was we went on holiday. But the laptop stayed at home. Of course I made notes on my phone, but most of those notes concerned the not-yet-formed second Tempest prequel. My point is there was no serious writing, and that’s as it should be, on holiday. Though there was a lot of reading, and that’s also as it should be.

The second thing was not long after returning home I became unwell and spent three days flat on my back doing nothing but being ill. As I faded in and out of recsleep (that’s short for recovery sleep) little bits (bytes?) of information got pushed around my brain by a small section running on auto. But when I woke up this morning, at least 75% recovered, and after my brain had dumped the weirdest dream from its core memory, all the work that little section had been doing was there for me to mull over.

And yeah, I didn’t like the way the first (as yet unnamed) prequel was going. The start was good, and it had a strong second act. But somewhere along the journey it had lost its way. So I saved the WIP as file version 2, deleted 3,073 words, and shifted another 2,410 words to an archive which I may use again.

And now I’ve dumped the baggage I need to make what’s left of the WIP into a sharper, leaner, more focussed story. I need to not get side-tracked into unnecessary areas.

Sequel, schmequel

When I first started making notes about what would eventually become Tempest, the book was a stand-alone. It just felt that way, even while I was jotting stuff down on Notepad. And then I began work on the draft manuscript, and I hit a point early in the book (chapter four, if you’re interested) which felt pivotal.

‘Ooooh,’ I thought. ‘I can do something different with this.’ Or words to that effect. And that’s how an additional Notepad session was created, in which a Tempest sequel (actually, a prequel) began to take shape. Yay!

Except I said ‘a sequel’ (meaning a prequel) because after a few months of dabbling with the draft prequel, and yes that was while I was still writing Tempest, it became clear my notes laid out a different prequel to the one I’d roughed out at the top of the Notepad session.

So in my head, right now, Tempest is a trilogy:

  1. Tempest
  2. Prequel #1 (two years before Tempest takes place)
  3. Prequel #2 (immediately before Tempest happens)

We’ll have to see how it all works out.


Well, it’s taken just over a year, a couple of renames, a lot of self-editing, a professional edit in New York, and some more self-editing (which, to be honest, is a process that I will never completely finish), my second novel, Tempest has been thrust, blinking into the light of day.

Tempest has more than its fair share of twists and turns. Writing a synopsis, or even the cover blurb, without giving plot devices away is a hateful challenge. But here you go, have a look at this:

YOU are a 29-year-old hotshot former Special Forces helicopter pilot. You’re a combat veteran who can take down anyone who gets in your way. You’re an avenging angel, and you make people pay for their crimes.

Your problem is you are stuck in a time loop. You’ve lived the same year a couple of thousand times. Can you get out of the loop? Can you find a love that lasts past a year? And can you succeed with your biggest and deadliest challenge yet?

This is Tempest, my 2023 action, adventure, thriller novel. Tempest is widely available from wherever you buy your paperbacks and your ebooks and even your audiobooks. You can also get it:

Reading others

I used to get really precious about reading (lots of) books while I was writing a project. It didn’t matter if that project was a short story, or a novel, or an album review, or even if it was a writing exercise I’d given myself.

‘What if the thing I want to read changes me?’ I’d fret. ‘What if I read something and that something causes me to lose my momentum? Or maybe it could push what I’m aiming for out of my reach?’

This is the immaturity of an early stage writer. A well-rounded, mature, experienced writer would (after scoffing at these cutely sad thoughts) actually encourage the earlier me to read more, to read everything, and to read voraciously as if the reading appetite may one day leave me. It never has, obviously.

But one thing has happened as I’ve diversified my reading tastes and as I’ve continued to read as many books as I can (21 books read so far this year, as at June 2023), and that one thing is… learning. It doesn’t matter what I’ve read. Or who it was written by. I can guarantee that I have learned (or learnt, if you prefer) something from it. Or learned something new from that writer. It might have been a turn of phrase, or the way a particular passage was constructed. Or it could well have been how a narrative was delivered. Or even how two or three characters spoke with each other in the round, and how they reacted to each other.

What I’m trying to say here is that despite my preciousness and immaturity, reading has complemented my writing at almost every turn. I say ‘at almost every turn’ because to read something needs time, and dipping into reading time takes away my writing time. But reading is actually an integral part of writing. I love reading. I wish I could do more of it. I think I love reading as much as I love writing. This feels like a good point of balance in my life. Long may it continue.