52 Weeks of Editing: Week 1—A Year of Editing A 19 Year Old First Draft

A castle on a hill with a lake in the foreground.
The Fortress at Cir Nacayjil (Art by Artbreeder)

Oh boy, Friday. It's the first week of a new year and that means pretty much everyone is pushing the New Year New You thing in various forms. Meanwhile, I'm actually recovering from the end of something. I submitted my corrected PhD thesis on 23rd December, right before the break.

It felt a little anticlimactic, to be honest. My partner spent the run-up to Christmas going to parties and trying to explain, over and over, that 1. yes I had kind of finished the PhD, but 2. there was more to do with it, and 3. I was working on that right now in the hope of completing before Christmas.

If you've not actually done a PhD, the process seems strange and arcane. If you've done a PhD, it's like the intellectual version of a Crufts agility challenge, where you're the dog running through all these different obstacles year after year. That's how it feels, anyway.

I'd passed the viva and was given six months to correct the thesis according to the examiners' requirements. I got extra time because of being disabled and the fact that I needed to a fair amount of technical corrections to the Ancient Greek quotations. I didn't have to do another viva (relief!) but I had until January 8th to complete all the work.

For a week or so in December, all I did was work on the thesis. Horrible, long days trying to get all the details right. Then, on the 23rd, I completed the five page resubmission form and sent it in. Huzzah! Christmas off, put everything down, take a break—

Oh, I know! said my brain. Let's go back and look at that seven book series I wrote nineteen years ago and start editing it. Finally, here I am getting to the point in the title. I spent about two days taking the files from the Amnar series I wrote in 2003-5 from textedit into a new Scrivener archive. At this point, I had no idea what I wanted to do with this, I just wanted to explore the old story and see what I thought of it after all this time.

I also dug out the printed copies, which I've been lugging around for the last couple of decades, and had a look at the original, unedited first drafts. After reading the first couple of chapters, I didn't want to set the whole thing on fire and go live in a cabin in the woods forever. The material has a lot of flaws—a LOT of flaws—but it's not entirely unsalvageable. At least, that's what I think now.

Hence this ridiculous idea that I could spend the next year going through the series, figuring out what works and what doesn't, and seeing if I could pull something good out of all that. Something worth reading, something I might even consider putting out into the world.

So, here's my idea. I spend a year editing the work. It's an exploratory process, not necessarily following a chapter-by-chapter edit, but figuring out what editing advice and techniques work, and probably doing a bunch of new writing to make the whole thing worth reading. I did some work on this over Christmas, but so far it's been slow because I'm recovering from the five and a half years of working on the PhD, adjusting to this Autism diagnosis, and waiting to see if the resubmission is enough to get me a second PhD qualification.

It means: 1. more writing here; 2. diary-like entries on editing and developing a nineteen-year-old idea; and 3. getting to the twenty-year anniversary at the end of next year to see what I'd like to do with this next. Expect: 1. random thoughts about the editing process; 2. reviews of some of the tools out there for editing and developing stories; 3. Amnar background material.

Now I'm off to donate blood. Have a good Friday!