Thursday 18 April 2013

Editing - The After Process

Editing your work

So, you've got past the first stage and had someone (or several someones) read through your first draft. Maybe you got some good feedback and have changed some things or re-written some of it. The next step is to get someone to edit the hell out of it. Bring on the red pen of death! (Well, for me it's red ink on the computer, but the statement stands!)

What do you need to look for in an editor? Actually, you're looking for someone who is similar to a beta reader, but this time they need to be able to really tear the books to shreds and build it back up again. A lot of writers will use a professional editor, and I have one of my own, but if you're just starting out as a writer, you may want to have someone who's not going to charge you.

It can be a friend, a relative, someone you know online who has the time and patience to go through your work and tell you where you're going right and where you're going wrong. I know it sounds similar to what you were asking your first reader to do. This time it's different because the editor is only half of the process. See, with a first reader you take their ideas and you weigh up what you want to do with their comments. You also have that choice with an editor, but the relationship is different.

A first reader is someone who will read the piece and tell you anything that they spot whilst reading it through. They won't, necessarily, spend hours going over it and spotting every error. It's one of the reasons I use both. Another is that I like my second draft to be less full of mistakes than the first one. An editor will pour over your work, and not only point out problems, but they'll tell you how to *fix* those problems as well.

For example, I seem to have a problem with run on sentences and not enough commas. (Or I use them all the frigging time instead of breaking up the run on sentences - I call it my on again/off again love affair with commas.) My first reader will not necessarily be looking for those kinds of errors as they read through the first draft. It's great if they do, and some people skip the beta stage and go straight to an editor. That's fine, whatever works for you. I don't for a number of reasons, some of which are that I worry that the beta will miss things and I also believe that you can never have too much feedback before you go onto the next stage - publication.

So, you've sent your work off to the editor, that's it right? NOPE! Once it arrives back, or even while they have it, be prepared for phone calls, e-mails and texts asking about errors or problems. They work alongside you to make sure that they are getting the right idea about how you want your story to go. My editor is a good friend of mine - Kim - and right now is over halfway through editing my sixth book which is due out in July. She recently sent me the first half of the book ready for my corrections and man, did I feel stupid for the amount of red ink and comments on my errors. I had read through it myself before sending it to her (after having a beta read it too) and from the look of the manuscript I was sent back, I failed to spot many, many glaring errors.

It's not just grammatical errors, it's also things like making the character take things too far. Tara is a character I struggle with in that respect. Sometimes she'll whine a little bit too much and Kim will point it out and these things rarely make it into the final draft. The only problem I seem to have with Kim is that she is American and so some of the phrases I use she doesn't know about. I remember that we recently had a conversation about the difference between "paper round" and "paper route". Both us believed the other was a silly way of saying it and made no sense. That's just an example of some of the things an editor is there for.

Now, one thing that Kim is sure to emphasise on a regular basis is that I am the writer. I know the story I want to tell and I know how it's supposed to go. Her edits are, in her words, 100% grammatically perfect, but that doesn't mean they are the right way I want it to be in my books. When we have discussions about plot holes, sometimes I'll think that her answer and insight is the way I should go and sometimes I find a different way that I believe is the way it should go. You want to have a good relationship with your editor. Especially because without them, your work could seem like you don't know what you're doing. As evidence by my problem with full stops and commas.

The good thing about the editing process is that it takes a long time to complete and you can always go back and do more. You can have more than one editor. You can have several giving their input. I don't, but if it works for you great. I would just add one caveat though. Sometimes, when you pull your work apart and build it up again, you hit the point where it is at the top of what it can be and you have to learn when that stage has been reached. If you continue to pull it apart and add and subtract, you're going to end up with a completely different story. That might be what you want, and again, if it works for you, go for it. However, you might feel that the story you were trying to tell got lost in your quest to make it as perfect as possible. Sometimes, it's about knowing when to stop and that is something you learn in time. I know that I reached that stage with The Friendship Triangle and it took a lot for me to say that it was done and was the best way for me to tell that story. I will be the first to admit that it's not my best story, but it's where I started and I feel it's good enough to be out there, so, it is.

So, to recap. Once you've gotten your second draft done, find an editor. You can use the tips I provided in the Beta Readers piece to find one (found here). Entrust them with your work and start the next process of getting your manuscript ready to be published. Editing. It's not always fun, it's not always easy, but it's a necessary stop on the road to getting your book out there. You need to be at a point that you're willing to make changes to your story, and accept that it will need changes. As I said in the Beta Reader piece, the first draft of everything is shit. Remember that and you'll be fine!

Now I need to stop being distracted and start doing some actual work!

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