This weekend at The Pink Heart Society our intrepid columnist Annie West tackles the unsexy subject of editing and how it can help you Findaboo (finish the damn book). And don't forget to read all the way to the end for the latest Book With Biddy Blog to see how our aspiring author is getting along!
When people think of writing a story some picture themselves jotting down inspired prose straight onto gorgeous, parchment quality paper (writers and stationery freaks are often synonymous). Others see themselves typing rapidly at their computer, finishing their next chapter easily in time for a social cup of coffee with friends. Few of us think about the process of rewriting, tweaking, revising, reviewing, altering, reworking, assessing...you know, that E word. Editing.
As an unpublished author my focus was getting the words on the page, the book finished and sent to a publisher who would naturally adore my plot, characters and prose and offer to publish instantly. (Dream on, Annie).
Now my focus is still on getting the words on the page, but I know that’s only the beginning.
I’m convinced there were three major factors that contributed to my first book being accepted for Harlequin Mills and Boon: targeting the right line (at last), luck (getting the right story to the right editor at the right time) and editing. (You’re wishing I’d made it easy and said ‘eating chocolate’, aren’t you?).
That manuscript was different in a number of ways from the ones that had gone before. One difference was that I’d never worked harder at getting the story as good as I could. Not just the individual words but also the overall plot, the characters, their vivid points of view and their emotions. I wrote, revised, reconsidered and polished till it was as good as I could get it. In the past I’d had the lowering experience of picking up the partial that had been rejected and noticing after a page or two ways that it could be tighter, better, more interesting for the reader. I’d put in months of work but I’d let myself down at the end by not editing properly. I’d been so pleased to have finished the story, so wrapped up in the joy of the book I’d created that I hadn’t focused enough on polishing it.
Since then I’ve learned to accept the fact that those glorious words I put down may possibly need alteration (even major alteration) before they’re sent to an editor. Also I learned to acknowledge and give myself the freedom not to get so focused on producing perfection that it stops me from writing. I can always come back and make it better later. A lot of the time it’s only later that I see what needs to be fixed.
I know some writers work by getting a paragraph, scene or chapter perfect, returning and tinkering and improving before allowing themselves to move on. It works beautifully for them and they manage to do that and still move forward with the story. If that approach works for you – marvellous. It means that when you reach the end of the story all the work is done. Maybe because I’m more pantster than plotter (at least at the beginning of a story), that doesn’t work for me.
Remember too, that time is on your side when it comes to editing. Most people are better able to see the flaws in their story, and the ways to improve it, after they’ve had some time away from the scene. Problems jump out at you after you’ve had a break from the story for a while. Other people (editors or critique partners) will also pick up issues you’ve missed, which will allow you to improve the story in ways you may not have considered.
Everyone has their own approach to editing. My process is that whenever I sit to write I read the beginning of the current scene or the one before to get myself into the story. That can take time but it’s invaluable for recapturing the mood and sense of where the story is heading. It’s also a chance to fix glaring problems like over use of certain words, to tighten the pace or jot down other issues that may need more thought. Then, when I have the whole story I print it out and read it through. Sometimes this confirms a suspicion I had that something wasn’t quite right. Only after I’ve done a thorough edit (or even several) do I sent it to anyone else. I’m lucky to have a critique partner who has an eagle eye for pacing and for unnecessary words. I find her input invaluable but many writers get by beautifully on their own. You can see here some of the editing that goes into producing one of my books.
Editing is a necessary part of writing. I suspect that quite a few aspiring authors who receive form rejections could have spent longer sitting back considering how their story might be improved before sending it off. It’s such a temptation to submit it straight away.
How do you edit? Do you put down a draft and only allow yourself to look at what you’ve written when you’ve finished? Do you perfect each scene before you move on? Has your approach to editing changed? Have you learned any tricks that have helped make your editing easier? I’d love to hear, I’m always looking for tips to make my writing better.
I’ll give away a copy of my current release, ‘The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife’ to one of the people who takes the time to contribute to this discussion.
Annie is currently celebrating the release of her Harlequin Mills and Boon novel ‘The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife’. It’s on shelves right now in Australia and New Zealand. It’s also available online from Mills and Boon UK.
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And here to fill us in on how her writing life is going since we met her a whole month ago we have the lovely Bridget Coady and the second of her blogs A Book With Biddy. So how's it been going Biddy?
One month. Four and a bit weeks. 31 days. 744 hours. 44,640 minutes. 2,678,400 seconds. That is how long my partial has been at Mills & Boon. Not that I have been counting you understand… oh no I am just marking it in my diary… every Thursday I note how many weeks it has been since they got it. Every day my heart beats a little faster as I unlock my front door and peer at the ground. My heart in my mouth if it looks like a big white envelope is sitting there… and then sudden deflation that another day has gone past without hearing. This is slow torture for an instant gratification kid like me.
This is a typical shopping dilemma for me:
“Buy on the internet it will be cheaper but you will have to wait for it to be posted OR buy now, pay more and have shiny shiny thing in your hand then and there?”
“Oooo shiny shiny thing come home with me my precious!”
See! No willpower.
I know waiting is what happens and this is just the beginning of the long wait but I am human enough to hope. I hope that they grabbed that partial as soon as it arrived, read it, hailed it as a masterpiece of writing and are at this moment drafting a contract for a three book deal based on those three measly chapters (oh and a rather bad synopsis.) Hey I suppose I should be glad my imagination is that fertile… I’ll need it for my book deal!
However I did have a nightmare this week that a fictional editor (bearing the same initials as the editor that has the partial) rejected it even though the rest of the editorial team liked it, she just didn’t care for it so overruled them… Try going back to sleep after that!
So interspersed with the dreams of fame and fortune and nightmares and sleepless nights, I have started BOOK TWO! Yes I have actually taken people’s advice (which is not my strong point… if I had book one would have been written years ago) and started on something new to distract myself from the wait. And I have fallen in love with my new hero. Lucas Kern, internationally renowned, critically acclaimed and well-known reclusive artist. This meant of course I had to find just the right photo as inspiration… cue much surfing of t’internet and voila! Meet Lucas Kern!
In that social whirly gig that romance writer’s call “work” I have been to a book launch this month. The very talented and disgustingly attractive Julie Cohen was launching her book One Night Stand at Waterstones in Reading. I was there as photographer extraordinaire and general heavy to ensure people bought the book. I am not sure the MP for Reading Central will walk into Waterstones again without a feeling of persecution as I was a tad full on in my attempts to get him to buy the book… But I was air kissed by her lovely editor Cat Cobain of Little Black Dress, so some of my networking at these social whirly giggy events is obviously paying off.
I am currently girding my loins for an influx of writerly types this next week as the RNA luncheon occurs and M&B have some sort of cocktail party… As always Coady Towers is fully booked but I have told them that breakfast is not included. I am hoping that being surrounded by published and encouraging types will rub off on me.
So yes, January has been a remarkably up and bouncy month. On all fronts I have been feeling renewed, invigorated and ready to hit 2008 hard. But I can already see some flagging, some bad habits creeping back in… I must learn to turn the TV off, I must start running again and I must keep the writing going.
Until next month… onwards and upwards! Oh and another picture of Lucas - this time walking down a street - for inspiration.
Don't forget to check back in March to see how Biddie's second month has gone and whether or not she survived the invasion of authors!!! Thanks Biddie!