Before the edit starts

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When you start out writing it’s easy to look at authors with two, three, four or more books under their belt and believe they somehow have it easier than you, or that your struggles mean you aren’t meant to be a writer. This is very far from the truth.

I’m writing this as the first draft of my third book, Genesis Redux, merrily prints away beside me. I say merrily, but in some respects it’s feels like the creak of a trapdoor beneath your feet while you have a noose wrapped around your neck. My first draft has been resting for over six weeks now and it’s time to get back to work. However, to show you that all writers have doubts and apprehensions, I want to capture the what’s going through my head now, knowing that I have months of editing ahead of me.

Confronting fear

Above all is the fear. It’s the fear of reading my first draft and realising it’s irredeemable. Note I didn’t say terrible. Terrible can be dealt with, in fact I’ve dealt with terrible at this stage in the process twice before. First drafts are meant to be mostly terrible but with enough encouraging signs that there’s a good story in there somewhere. What I’m scared about is that the first draft is so bad, so teeth-clinchingly, sickness-inducingly bad, that there is no way it can be recovered and I’ll have to start the whole thing all over again. This fear is so strong my stomach just flipped as I wrote that sentence. That’s how much I fear what I’m about to read.

I’ve been told this feeling never changes, no matter how many books you’ve written.

Pressure of expectation

Then there’s the pressure of expectation. The nicest part of writing your first novel is that you are the sole source of expectation. That level of expectation can still crush some, but for most of us the challenge is to get to the finish line, to have written a book, and then to see if anyone else will enjoy it afterwards. This is the third book of a trilogy. I’ve been lucky enough to have received glowing reviews for both books but this doesn’t make the writing process easier. It makes it harder. Because what if it’s rubbish? What if I’ve lost whatever it was that people enjoyed so much in the first two books? What if I screw the ending up? Not only do I have to bring this book to a satisfying conclusion, I have to conclude the whole series as well. What if I…

No. I have to stop thinking about it otherwise I’ll never go any further.

Overcoming laziness

I always look on in awe at those committed individuals. You know the ones I mean, those who seem to thrive on pressure, who produce and produce and produce as if they’re in a competition with the rules of physics on how much one can achieve in a set period of time. I’m not like that. I work hard, but inside there is a very lazy person just waiting to break out, and it’s at times like these, just at the brink of committing to something huge, that my inner lazy man speaks the loudest. “Why bother? Two’s a good effort, much better than some. Nobody will hold it against you. Forget about it…”

Time pressure

On top of the above is the knowledge of the sheer amount of time this will take, time I’m struggling to make available. Like all writers, I too have a life outside of writing. I have a job, and if that wasn’t enough I’m also the chair of our local preschool. I have friends (stop snickering at the back) and most importantly, I have a wonderful wife and a young family who fully deserve my time. I’ve written before how writing is a selfish act, but it’s at this point in a project this really hits home.

The tyranny of deadlines

Finally, I have that other form of time pressure looming up ahead of me, the deadline. I’m n indie author so I don’t have a publisher breathing down my neck waiting for the finished book, but I do have my own expectations as to when the book should be ready to go. My first book took 18 months tow write. My second book took just over ten months. This time I’d like to do the same, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

And then there is the pressure from my readers, who expect the book to be available in September BECAUSE I TOLD THEM IT WOULD BE. The things we do to ourselves.

Of course, none of these feelings will stop me from editing, which is the madness behind being a writer. There is a story inside me and it needs to be told. I’ve already committed months of my time to get this far, what’s a few more months to finish it off? Plus there’s always the next one to think about…

What about you? Does any of this ring true? I’d love to hear from you.

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6 Things You Need To Edit Your Book

Scissors Truman Capote

Editing is my favourite part of writing. While I enjoy the free exploration and rush of creativity that comes with writing a first draft, it’s in the edit that I really earn my money. The edit can turn a promising idea into a great idea, can turn lumpen prose into gold. But in order to get the best out of editing, you need six important things.

1 Distance

Have you noticed how much easier it is to spot mistakes or areas for improvement in other people’s books? There’s a good reason for that. As a reader you’re coming to the story fresh, with no insight or foreknowledge of what’s taking place. You can only judge the book by it’s words. With your own book it’s very different. You know everything intimately, not just what is written but the back story, what you are trying to imply and what is left unsaid. You know what you mean to say but because of your knowledge you can’t see what you’ve actually written.

To overcome this you need to distance yourself from your work. The way most writers do this is to put the manuscript away for a month or more and get on with something else. By the time you read it through again, you’ll be able to see it through a reader’s eyes and spot the issues you would otherwise not have seen.

2 To put the story first

Nothing is more important than what’s best for your story. When you read your story back you may find passages of exquisite beauty, but if they don’t fit well into the overall narrative, they need to be cut. You may have included a particular subplot because you like the characters or because you want to explore a particular idea, but if they confuse or slow the overall story, they should be taken out.

The story is king, not you, your ego, your interests or desires. To produce the best work you need to remove yourself from the process. When you edit, always remember that you’re there to serve the story, not the other way around.

3 Knowledge of your market

If you are writing your book purely for yourself, you can skip this part. However, if you are hoping people will buy your book you need to have an understanding of your target market when you edit. This isn’t necessarily so you change the story to meet a generic market need, but you need to understand the implications of the choices you make.

The type of language you use can restrict the size of your audience. Scenes of violence or of a sexual nature will also restrict who will be interested in your work. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should produce a bland, generic piece or try to please everyone – and as an author who writes for adults, I certainly don’t write that way – but you need to understand the types of boundaries that exist within your target audience before you start pushing them.

4 A process

Before you start editing you need to have a clear idea of the different steps of the editing process and your goals at each stage. Editing isn’t just about ensuring you have  no typos or grammatical errors. It’s about producing the best story possible, including the shape and flow of your story, characterisation, plot, prose, as well as those pesky typos.

I’ve written in the past about my editing process (I urge you to have a read. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back) and it’s one I plan to use again this time around. The one step I would add having learnt from my most recent book is to have a second full read through before sending it off for it’s final proof. It’s amazing the impact a thousand seemingly minor changes can have on the overall shape and flow of a story.

Whatever your thoughts on whether my process works for you or not, you need to have one of your own before you start.

5 People who aren’t afraid to give you an honest opinion

When you start out writing, the first people you ask for feedback tend to be family and friends. This is great if you have wife like mine who is more than happy to tell you their unvarnished thoughts on your work (and I wouldn’t have her any other way) but mostly the feedback you’ll receive will be encouraging. Your friends and family will either view your book as being ‘good for you’ or believe whatever you do is great. Then there are those who didn’t like your story but don’t want to hurt your feelings.

In order to write the best story possible you need open, honest feedback. You need people to tell you what worked for them and what didn’t – along with the all important ‘why’ – without fear of how you’ll react. Now, if you’ve already done points 1 & 2 of this list, your feelings shouldn’t come into it – OK, they will, but at least you’ll recognise the reaction for what it is and eventually put your anger or disappointment behind you – so you should be in a position to judge any critical comment on its merit.

If you can afford to, hire a developmental editor to help you define the best structure for your story. If this isn’t possible, identify people you trust and ask them to beta read for you. Remember, whatever the feedback, these people only have your story’s best interest at heart.

6 Professional help

Who is your favourite write? Whose prose to you find exhilarating, or characters spellbinding? Whoever you think of, they were only able to produce work to this level with the help of professionals. Whether they were developmental editors as I’ve mentioned above, line editors to help smooth prose or proofreaders to identify any typos or grammatical errors, all of the writers of the books you love had help along the way.

When I published Second Chance I had an editor friend give it a ‘quick once over’ before launch. I thought it was in good shape but he found hundreds of errors. I then published but was immediately told by other friends there were other errors. They kindly sent me a list of over fifty errors. I then sent it to my editor friend for a thorough edit. He found another 270 errors.

My process changed completely when it came to Absent souls, but even after going through many rounds of editing, I recently had another editor look through Second Chance and Absent Souls where they found a few more (thankfully small) things to correct. The good news is I’ve only had one review which marked me down because of typos, but I know of authors that have had their book trashed in reviews because of issues that a professional could have helped them resolve.

You cannot edit your book on your own. No author can. You need the help of professionals, people trained to get your manuscript into shape. While you may not have the resources of a major publisher to pick up every error in a manuscript, you owe it to your readers to produce the best work possible. At the very least, hire a proofreader to tidy your book. You’re readers, and your accountant, will thank you.

 

So these are my list of things you need for your edit, what are yours? Have I missed anything? Is there anything you disagree with? I’d love to hear from you.

 

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