I’m pleased to welcome Margaret Kirk to the blog to talk about her revision process today.
Margaret is a Highland Scot with an abiding fondness for Glasgow, where she did an MA in modern languages. Germanophile, Runrig Fan and mad cat lady, she writes crime fiction set in Inverness and the Highlands.
Out now in paperback, her debut crime novel, Shadow Man, introduces ex-Met DI Lukas Mahler and his DS, Iain ‘Fergie’ Ferguson. Published by Orion in 2017, Shadow man was the winner of the Good Housekeeping First Novel competition 2016.
She is currently working on book 2 of the Lukas Mahler crime series.
You can read her First Draft process HERE.
Your first draft has been completed, what state is it generally in?
I really revise as I go, so it’s in fairly decent shape. But I do discard drafts as new twists/plot lines occur to me, so by the time I’ve finished the novel, I can have up to 12 or so different drafts on my laptop!
What is the first thing do before you start to revise?
I head for the bits I’ve highlighted in yellow. These are the parts that I know aren’t quite there yet or are missing information I need to research more fully. Once these have been dealt with, I can move on to looking at the draft as a whole.
How do you assess the damage that needs working on?
Well, I’ve heard the advice about putting the finished draft away for about a month before looking at it again – but if anyone actually does that, they must be stronger-willed or less impatient than I am! That said, I do give it a day or two just to ‘settle’ in my head – otherwise, I think I’m too close to it to be able to assess it properly.
Do you allow anyone to read that very first draft before revisions or can you assess it objectively yourself?
Yes, I let my husband and my agent read it. They’re both people I trust to give fair but objective opinions – and very often, if they raise any queries, they tend to be ones I’ve had in the back of my mind anyway. So very useful to get those second opinions at a fairly early stage.
What do you initially focus on, when approaching the completed first draft of the manuscript?
First pass will probably be to make sure the ‘flow’ is there – does it read well, are there any clunky bits that need to be rewritten? I don’t focus on grammar or spelling because I’m usually pretty obsessive about these anyway – and if I miss something, my eagle-eyed husband will generally pick it up! Then I check against my chapter plan, to make sure I’ve included all the scenes/plot points I wanted to.
Do you have any rituals, writing or real-world, when revising a manuscript?
Honestly, no – as long as there is coffee in abundance and the occasional chocolate biscuit, I tend just to get stuck in!
In what format do you revise, paper or computer?
I do everything on the laptop. Only exception is the actual line edits, because that’s the stage where I will check for spelling/grammar errors that may have slipped through the net. For those, I think it’s helpful to have a different display method.
How messy is the revision process – can you go in and repair areas or does the whole manuscript get decimated?
It’s not particularly messy, because I do a fairly detailed chapter plan and synopsis before I start writing, and refer to them throughout. Both will be revised and updated as the novel progresses and different ideas occur to me, but they are very much the documents I work to, so the finished novel shouldn’t contain too much that’s in need of demolition!
Is revision an overhaul of the story or is it minor editing?
Hmm. It can be both, because once I get feedback from my agent and editor, there may be plot strands which either need to be expanded or excised. But hopefully, most of it will mainly be fixing continuity errors or timeline issues which have managed to creep in.
What’s the biggest change you’ve made to a story during this process?
I had a scene with my main protagonist and two minor characters which ended up being cut because my editor thought it made the novel lose pace. She was probably right, but I liked the scene and the insights into Mahler, my main character, it provided – so it may well make a reappearance (or at least, an amended version of it) in a future novel. Never throw any of your writing away – you never know when it might come in useful!
When first drafting, many writers keep track of progress by counting words in a day. How do you make sure you’re progressing as you’re revising?
I don’t really have a set method, but I know when I need to deliver the manuscript by, so I do keep an eye on my daily page count.
Do you prefer to write the first draft or do you prefer the revision process?
I don’t mind the revising, actually – I think it’s because once you have a draft, you’ve got something concrete to work with, whereas the first draft is very much writing into the void.
What do you drink while you’re working?
You see, the healthy lifestyle answer is obviously spring water or a nice herbal tea…but honestly, it’s much more likely I’ll be guzzling coffee as I type!
How long does this process take and what shape is the book now in?
(Looks round to make sure her editor isn’t listening). Once I’m clear about what I’m doing, I’m actually fairly fast. Structural edits can take weeks but the final stage might only be a few days.
Thanks for showing us the inner workings!
A gripping Scottish crime thriller from the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing competition 2016
‘Shadow Man is a harrowing and horrific game of consequences.’ Val McDermid
Two brutal killings rock Inverness, and bring ex-Met Detective Inspector Lukas Mahler the biggest challenge of his career…
The body of the queen of daytime TV, Morven Murray is discovered by her sister, Anna, on the morning of her wedding day. But does Anna know more about the murder than she’s letting on?
Police informant Kevin Ramsay’s murder looks like a gangland-style execution. But what could he have stumbled into that was dangerous enough to get him violently killed?
Mahler has only a couple of weeks to solve both cases while dealing with his mother’s fragile mental health. But caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, is ex-Met DI Lukas Mahler hunting one killer, or two?