Edit Write Tiffle

Thank you to lovely writer Christina Hollis for inviting me to join the My Writing Process Blog hop. It comes at an excellent time for me, as I am just considering how to edit the first draft of the longest novel I have every written. (About 5 Mills & Boons in wordage.) So it has concentrated the mind wonderfully.

Currently I’m writing a story set in 1938 when nobody knew there was going to be a war, though lots of people suspected it and tried to work out what they would do if it came. There is a love story – a big one, with problems of integrity, class and sexual morality all mixed in – but the theme, I suppose, is conflict of loyalties. In the end everyone has to work out his or her own solution. We are all answerable to our own consciences, when the lights are out.

My writing process is best described as close your eyes and jump. That’s what happened when I started this book. As a result, I went in a number of wrong directions. When I was writing 55,000 word category romance, with one story, two major characters and a guaranteed happy ending, this was not an issue. Now, with a multi-character world and at least four story lines, I have to keep my eye on the landing zone. Basically I think it is going to work like this:
• Write  – tick
• Read  – tick
• Edit
• Write the missing stuff
• Tiffle – more politely known as polishing.

Done in pen or pencil plus highlighter pens on printed ms, with accompanying notes in a bound notebook. Loose sheets get lost. I have proved this.

1 NOTE incidents/reflections/dialogue that I need to insert to make sense of later developments. Note both where insertion is needed and where it is picked up later. NB Use reference points that Word Search will find. I am now about to kick hell out of Draft 1’s pagination.
2 UNDERLINE, sideline, highlight stuff I need to take out because it doesn’t make sense in this story.
3 CIRCLE stuff where I go on too long, repeat myself
4 QUESTION MARK anything that strikes me as odd, either because of consistency, plot, character or historical fact.
5 BRACKET anything which could be better expressed. Remember less is more.
6 THEN CUT 2) and 3). This is very satisfying! Keep outtakes for future use. Also, some editor further down the line may want them back in.
7 CONSIDER QUESTION MARKS I find this takes me back into the creative process.
8 SAVE ms as Draft 2


I now know the new material that needs to go into my story (1 above), plus the issues that I need to resolve (7) and any Notes To Self that I make as I go along, especially as I approach the end. They are a focussing mechanism, not a shopping list, Essentially I am now back in the writing zone again. From now on I need to fly, not plod.

The main difficulty here, I’ve found, is seamless joining. What works best for me is to find out where the new piece has to go in and then go back and cut the preceding paragraph (or more). This gives me room to get into the writing voice I had when I first wrote that chapter. . If I read the preceding paragraph aloud and then keep speaking as I write on, it starts to feel like the spontaneous flow it should do, and not just a patch and push job.

The difference between the two

Editing is like a builder tidying up his brickwork, chopping off excess putty, filling the odd small hole. Re-writing is like removing a damaged brick and replacing it – you have to make room for it, then smoothe the joins so they don’t show.


This is where I deal with 5). It’s the beauty treatment – clarify, tighten, exfoliate, buff.

Word of warning here: this can go too far. From my past:

ED     You said the book was nearly finished. Why isn’t it on my desk?
ME     I’m just giving it a last tidy ….
ED     (howls) Stop tiffling.

Tiffling is where you can go through your book and replace one word or phrase with another because you like it better. This may be good if you a) know why and it’s a good reason and b) you’re consistent. If you replace ‘silk’ with ‘satin’ and then next day change it back, you’re in a bad way.


That’s the theory anyway. But it’s a BIG book and I have miles to go before I sleep. So I’d be very grateful for suggestions.


Recent contributors to My Writing Process Blog Hop

Christina Hollis    Bee-keeper and best selling author of historical fiction and M&B Modern Romance/Harlequin Presents christinahollis.blogspot.co.uk  

Jean Bull has loved books all her life.  She has worked in everything from teaching to the hotel industry and lived all over the UK, which has inspired her writing. jeanbullswritingblog.blogspot.co.uk/ 

Margaret Mayo author of scores of successful category romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon margaret-mayo.com/blog/

To come:

Cara Cooper writes short stories for women’s magazines, and novellas for People’s Friend, My Weekly and Ulverscroft. caracoopers.blogspot.co.uk

13 Responses to “Edit Write Tiffle”

  • I haven’t got any suggestions – I think you’re very brave. Your writing process differs from mine apart from that first “eyes closed – jump”. You’re so much more organised. If this is the book I think it is, I can’t wait to read it.

    Love Lesley x

  • Sorry, no suggestions for someone so organised from someone so not. I like your idea of keeping the cut bits somewhere safe. I also close my eyes and jump, though. It’s such fun.

  • Great post, thank you, Jenny, and I’m looking forward to reading the new book – once the cut, rewrite, tiffle process is complete. It’s always fascinating (and inspiring) to hear how other authors work and tips like this are invaluable. I always run a ‘deleted bits’ file on my computer for any new WIP – I find it a comforting security blanket! Good luck with the new novel – can’t wait to read it.

    • Thanks, Jen. Really glad if it’s useful. Bin everything that isn’t. Nothing works for everyone – or all the time.

      And thanks for the encouraging words on the New Book.

  • Cara:

    Fascinating stuff Jenny, you talk about patching and seamless joins. I have to say that when I read, I can never see the join. Perhaps that’s just because I’m not very analytical, and am happy to be carried by the story. I certainly didn’t see any joins in, ‘To Marry a Prince,’ so however you’re doing it, it works. Best of luck with the new book, it sounds great.

    • Ah, you’ve caught me out, Cara. Thank you for the comment on ‘To Marry a Prince’, but that book was written at white heat – 14 weeks from idea to book-in-the-hand – so my editing was done at Mach 4. No tiffle time at all.

  • Sarah:

    Date for the new book (or at least a year)? And an intriguing suggestion that this is the first of a series? Good.

    • Thank you, Sarah. You tweak my conscience. The new book has turned out to be a huge undertaking – and every challenge binds me harder to it. No clear publication date – or route – for it yet.

      BUT I should self-publish a new contemporary novel this summer, the gods permitting. (I was on track until I broke my arm three weeks ago.) Anyway, I promise I will let you know, as soon as it’s up. Do you read E-books, or want hard copy?.

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