Saturday, 25 July 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #6 - You've Written Your Book, Now Become An Editor

The cold hard reality of reading your draft back after a given period.
"Your book is ready? Nuh-ah-nuuh. No. I don't think so."

Anyone who has ever written a first draft of a book will know that it is just that - a draft. The hard work starts afterwards, where you have to look at your work in a different way altogether. This is a discipline so hard for independent writers - not all of us of course, but in my case, making the jump from mere writer to hard-line-critique-spewing-red-pen-at-the-ready editor is difficult.

No wonder we hand this task over to someone who does this for a living.

In my own experience, the choice of an editor was the right one, however we have to accept that even they have limitations to their powers. An editor will view your book one way, you, as the author will view it another way.

And then, there is an army of readers ready to read it in their own unique way.

So the need for the author to get his or her book right from the off has never been more important. Authors need help too - it's a far bigger team all of a sudden, with editors, proofreaders, beta readers et al getting in on the act.

However, not all authors can afford all these professional services. One proofreading service I contacted said they charged £450 for the first 50,000 words. This may be reasonable enough, but if you are a first time author hoping that your book is going to make enough (quietly) so that by month two or three, that vital service or services are suddenly more affordable.

Getting your book professionally proofread and edited is a must for authors. As a first time author, you should take a step back, because although your book has been written, you might just find yourself seeking out all these services, which you could save a lot of time and money by doing some more of the ground work yourself.

My books have a three month gestation period. Whilst that sounds hideous, it is pretty necessary. I may want to make swathing changes to the book - not the story itself (because hopefully you've created an outline first and knew how the story was going to end), but grammatical changes, sentence and paragraph structure, and of course, the (eventually ending ) hunt for typos.

It's all too easy to send your book out to an agent, publisher or editor without the proper cooling down time being applied to the work. After all, you worked hard on it, and the narcissist in us will want it read (and praised!) as soon as possible.

But you should wait. Really, you should wait. The draft is not the final one. There's much work to be done.

We have to toughen up and take the hits. Not everyone will think what we have done is awesome.
"What? Don't you understand? My book is finished. You don't like it. What do you mean you don't like it? My mum likes my book. Why don't you? Ugh - you're mean!"

You've only just thrown off the shackles of being an author.

So how do you become your own editor?

The simple truth is, you can't do the job of an editor. Not perfectly. But if you can get into an editor's mindset, your book will be all the better for it.

An editor:-

  • Will tell you what is wrong with the plot
  • Point out character flaws that simply do not work in tandem with the story
  • Highlight timeline issues
  • Highlight glaring plotholes
  • Simply advise you (you don't have to accept what they say, but you probably should)
Delusions that we have written a truly great story need shaking up. It may well be great, but be realistic. You can be truthful to yourself and win more readers as a result.
"I finished my book. And yet it seems amongst the praise, you dare to criticise it? Allow me to find something that will convince you that I am right."

As the author of the work:-
  • You may think your draft needs work, but that the story is brilliant
  • You may think your story is rubbish, even though it has potential 
  • You will speed read it, missing loads of errors, instead of going through it line by line
  • You will not see the story as it needs to be seen
  • Look at the point directly above, again
That is not to say that editors are the first, last and final word on everything. I have a paperback book from the Writer's Workshop - a very highly regarded entity, that contains a glaring mistake in a chapter about not making spelling errors. Something tells me that there is some irony at play here. 

Still, the book is excellent, so I would look over something like that.

The one month to three month holiday that your eyes gets from your draft allows you to come back, fresh, energised and most important - with some level of ability to effectively edit your work.

Don't try and write one book in the morning, and edit another in the afternoon. It really can mess you up - i know it did for me. So as appealing as writing new stories maybe be, hold off until you have finished your book properly. 

There's an argument that authors who suffer writer's block should go and work on other projects. Maybe - but I am inclined to disagree. If you are writing a book about vampires, and another about mermaids, if you don't split yourself properly from the respective works, you will end up merging the ideas.

This in itself is not always a bad thing. Darren Aronofsky, one of my favourite film directors, had the idea for a story where a ballerina fell in love with a wrestler - the highest art meeting the lowest one (that's not my quote or my belief - all arts are valuable to the one who practises them) - but the story would not gel, so DA split the ideas.

The result was the excellent The Wrestler with a powerhouse performance from Mickey O'Rourke and an Oscar winning turn from Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

So step back, take a breather, and become the Odile to the more comfortable Odette. If you really can't critque your work, do - really do give it to someone else. Editing isn't evil - it just needs to be done, done again, and done to death. You'll come to the point that you actually hate your book.

Now you're ready.

Previous WWW tips are here