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And now for something almost completely different

Novelists often complain that reading their earlier work leaves them with a distinct feeling of unease. The passage of time between one piece of work and another inevitably leads the author to a different place – greater maturity and depth of insight, perhaps, or simply an earnest desire to improve upon his previous attempt.

Writing a novel requires a considerable commitment of both time and effort. Having undergone the usual trials of doubt, disillusionment and despair, the novelist arrives at the long-awaited point of departure known as ‘The End’, and sends the manuscript off to the publisher with great relief.

Once the book is published the author symbolically washes his hands of it and focuses on the current work in progress – one more taxing stew of ideas he feels equally compelled to finish. But over the years his earlier work continues to bother him in a number of ways, not least of these being his embarrassment at having written such substandard stuff in the first place.

Enter the revised edition. Armed with the new insight and maturity he now possesses, the novelist can put right the glaring deficiencies of his earlier work and reissue them to the general public – with a brief introductory note at the front of the book.

The reader – acting as judge, jury and executioner – then has the benefit of assessing both the original and the revised edition, and can decide which he feels is best. Hopefully, the revised edition will have all the attributes so obviously lacking in its predecessor, while retaining the overall structure.

Revision of any previous work should not be undertaken lightly. Once you start, the demons of perfectionism hover eagerly at your shoulder demanding the removal of all offending prose. A manuscript of 90,000 words will seem like a colossus, an impossible task to put right in one lifetime. But the rewards of completion far outweigh the struggle it took to get there.

Your newly-revised opus now has muscle and vitality. The characters are sharper and somehow more real; the words they speak aren’t bogged down in so much pointless waffle. And perhaps you had to cut the original length by up to 10,000 words for the sake of unity.


As they say, nothing is wasted. But dead words are like the chippings from the stone that finally reveals the statue – the bits the sculptor didn’t want you to see.

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