Bursting the comfort bubble; hiring an editor

While working on my novel, I’ve been fortunate enough to have met a number of people who offered to read and provide feedback on it over the last few years. I could try and list them, but I’d probably forget some – such has been the collective effort – but every contribution has allowed it to evolve.

That’s in addition to my own learning and growth, and these are lessons and comments I’ve taken to heart in every draft and project since. There comes a point, though, where something else is needed.

There have been questions and comments, but they’ve been of a similar vein. This is incredibly helpful, as it tells me I’m on the right path and I can address some of the gaps and problems. The number decreased with each draft, and it left me feeling quite confident.

While submitting to agents hasn’t been the success I’d hoped for, that’s not surprising. Maybe it’s the genre, or the niche within the genre? Maybe my cover letter hasn’t gripped them, or perhaps it’s just not good enough to be published?

Except, I don’t believe that last one. I can’t.

Why did I hire an editor?

So, while making moves towards self-publishing, I wanted to make sure that this is as good as can be. For that, I needed something else; a fresh pair of eyes trained to spot the things I still didn’t see. There are different services to choose from, and I spent some time speaking to different people and professionals to find the right path for me.

And then I found the right one.

It turned out, after all those conversations, the right one for me was someone I knew! Rachel has been a friend for a fair few years now, and it turned out that some of her clients had provided her with the kind of experience I wanted and needed.

After discussing my situation and needs, a course of action was set. The cost fit into my expectations and the excitement soared as everything was agreed, signed and started.

The hardest part of it all was waiting for the assessment to come back to me, or so I thought.

Dealing with a new kind of feedback

I’m used to friends reading my work. I’m used to relative strangers reading my work. I’m used to classmates reading my work.

I want the honest feedback. I’ll fight my corner but, ultimately, if something doesn’t become clear when I intended it to for a reader without the knowledge I have, that’s got to be addressed. Some of it is genre or style, and different readers pick up on different things, so having a wide net to cast is really useful.

An editor’s comments are something else.

There is literally no reason to be shy or protect my feelings. I’ve paid for a service, so I expect professional results. I got those, but it still hit me more than I expected. That’s another lesson to learn.

There weren’t any negative comments, though. Everything was constructive and questioning. A lot of it was designed to make me ask the questions and find the answers myself, and that takes time. I have some consultation time included but rather than rush in, I’m thinking on the points raised, looking over my manuscript and making notes that I can formulate later into questions.

Again, I’ve paid for this and I’ve got to be professional, too – that’ll help me get the most out of this whole experience. Anything I can learn now will only help me in the future. I’ll take my medicine and do my best to do better in the future.

The results

First of all, it’s made me rethink more than a few things about the story. It proved to be a bit of a wakeup call, and that’s a good way to beat the complacency that can set in. While the test readers had responded positively, there’s always a niggling doubt that they’re trying to protect your feelings somewhat, even the ones who are casual friends or passing acquaintances.

Some of the comments I received, now that I processed them, are on the mark, and the next draft will take big steps to address them. Some need subtle changes and others bigger, more sweeping edits throughout various parts of the manuscript.

Ultimately, the decision of what to change falls to me. This isn’t a traditional publishing deal where I have to make certain changes (if that’s how it works), and I need to keep in mind that the editor has studied this story in relation to itself, while I have two sequels in first draft. Some of the points raised I can relate directly to how I’ve structured the trilogy as a whole rather than just a standalone book. This is something I’ll discuss with her further.

Once done, I can move on to the more technical editing – and that takes me another step closer to the publishing stage.

It’s starting to feel a little more real.

Writer Problems: A Not So Comprehensive List

We all have problems. Some are serious, some not so much. How big or problematic they are depends on our view at the time and with the passage of time, they seem to get smaller until we wonder why it bothered us in the first place.

That being said, some are more annoying than anything. They can be ironically funny, blindingly frustrating, facepalm cringeworthy or many other colour adjectives. Writers are no different. So, here is a list of writer problems. It’s not extensive or comprehensive but they’re all problems I’ve encountered (and not always solved) as well as those of other writers I’ve met and spoken to.

Hell, they probably apply to many creatives and professions – but you’ll have to tell me that.

Pets like getting involved

Not much to say about this one but any writer with pets will know exactly what I’m talking about – our lovable companions just KNOW we need their help.

My dog 'helping' me work
My dog ‘helping’ me work

I can’t deny it’s true at times, but when I’m on a roll and my dog decides to jump on me or my laptop, that’s more hindering than helping. Still, wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Feeling guilty over a lack of productiveness

I don't work right up here gif
Something’s wrong with my head, I think

I’m starting with one of my favourites. I like to take a break between big projects and drafts. It helps me put some distance between what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do next. It can be a week, a month or even a year – it really depends on the project and how drained I feel.

So, FREE TIME! That’s what I tell myself. I’ll catch up on my favourite TV shows, go to some gigs, tick off a few books in the ‘to read’ pile and get some gaming done. Actually, no. Very little happens because I feel guilty about not writing or editing! So, I find other work to do, whether it’s planning something new – or related – to the current project, doing some redrafting etc. It’s great but everything else listed above, well those piles, lists and such get bigger. Who knows when I’m going to get around to them?

Oh well, I keep up with Facebook…

The anticipation of feedback

I like to think that I’m pretty patient while waiting for feedback. I do understand that people are busy and have their own lives and things to sort. That’s what I tell myself and hope it conveys that way to others.

I just have a lot of feelings gif
WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?

However, on the inside I’m screaming ‘READ THE BOOK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!’ every day until I get it back. Sometimes I can’t wait and I break my rule and ask. I feel guilty about that too. Thankfully, my writer friends understand that…I think…I hope!

The infamous writers block

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I relate to this way too much

I could write 1,500 essays on this subject. It. Is. So. Annoying. And frustrating. And has a particularly awful sense of timing. Countless are the times I’ve been on a great role and the one day it just stops. And I end up staring at a blank screen four hours searching for a particular word or phrase.

Sometimes a film, a show, a song, a book, a game, a word or accident can snap me out of it. Other times, I need a good sleep or swim to clear the head. Other times, I think it’s a way for the mind to tell us to take a break. Maybe to organise our thoughts or think about a problem – or just give us a rest. We’re not machines, we do need it every so often.

Knowing what you want to say without having the right words

Use your words gif
How I feel with my mind when it blocks me

Sort of related to the last point but how many times have you had the PERFECT idea for that scene or chapter that’s been bugging you for weeks but when you come to put it on paper or screen, you stall. It’s not a block because you know exactly what you want to say but it just won’t come out. Damnit.

This is a fantastic example of why redrafting is so key. I’m all about the flow of my work and stories but sometimes you’ve got to force past it and just get it on paper. The editing lets you find those parts and smooth them out to match the rest of the story. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear someone’s arms off when it happens, though.

Not being able to stop the inner monologue

Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off. A CTRL+ALT+DEL function would be amazing. Simply amazing. Someone do this and I will love you forever.

Facepalm gif
There are never enough facepalms for this

I find this more when I’ve been writing for a while or working for a long time on a project; I just can’t stop. I know I’ve got work in the morning or an early start for whatever reason – or I’m supposed to be meeting friends or family or whatever – so I stop writing but that monologue is just going on and on.

The worst part is, whether I cave and get up or return to it the next day, the ideas are gone. Potential writing gold gone for good. That’s when the facepalm strikes.

The conflict of how to tell people what you do

All is good, you’re at an event, seeing some friends and there’s new people around. You strike a conversation and then they ask you one of the worst questions ever; ‘what do you do?’

Why is life so hard gif
Sometimes this is easier than changing words on a computer…

Where to even start with this? I write words and hope it’ll make me money is one option. I tell stories sounds childish. A writer sounds hipster and clichéd. Aspiring writer makes it seem like you’re trying too hard. Author? Not a chance, not till I’m published. Usually, I tell people I’m working on a book. They’ll either be interested and ask more or they won’t. It’s a safe option but why is it so hard?!

Not knowing when to stop

This is another favourite of mine. How do you know when it’s finished? The amount of times I’ve done the final draft of something only to come back in six months and let my inner voice yell ‘WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, THINKING THAT WAS DONE?’ until I cave in and do another draft.

I’m not always convinced the new draft is better. Surely there’s a point where what you started with or tried to achieve has been lost through so many edits you have something new completely. Is it still one story or is it two? If I find an answer, I’ll let you know.

Getting published!

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It’s not a brick wall but very cute…and painful

I saved the biggest problem for last. It is one of THE biggest hurdles any writer who wants to make a career out of putting words on paper can and will face – unless you’re incredibly lucky. If you are, don’t forget about this blogger/writer/Scot.

I’ve not explored this much compared to others but even what I’ve experienced I can liken to headbutting a brick wall over and over and over and over. And over. Repeat until brain becomes mush. Hunting down and acquiring an agent is much the same. And yes, I’ve headbutted a brick wall (a lot as a child and once recently to test out this experiment. It hurt. A lot) so take my word for it.

Any other big writer problems I’ve missed? Let me know!

Tackling Lethargy

Lethargy. It’s something that I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in suffering from from time to time. Yes, that is why I’ve been silent recently. I have the ideas but not the energy or motivation to work on them. Sorry about that.

I’m aiming to change that. I still have the lethargy but the only way to beat it is by getting organised and doing things (I say this while not swimming, which I should be doing right now. One thing at a time.) that I do want to do anyway.

Master of Procrastination

Yes, yes I am. It’s very easy to waste time. Facebook and social media in general is good for this. Fear of missing out (or FOMO) means we’re glued to the news feed whether at home or on the go. We don’t want to miss out on anything that MAY happen. Before you know it, three hours have passed and it’s almost time for bed.

Binge watching TV with the likes of Netflix is another way of losing time. Pottering around the house/flat/home. Basically, anything you do when you know you have other things to do wastes that time. I’m especially bad when I have to do the cleaning. Sigh.

Becoming more organised

As it stands now, I don’t have much in the way of free time during the week. An 8 hour day at work as well as three hours – minimum – travel time means I have about four hours after work to do things. There are the daily chores and tasks that must be done, eating, showering etc.

I swim twice a week, which takes up a good amount of time on those nights too. I like to read and play games too so finding the balance that allows me to do these things, as well as write and/or edit for a while every day.

That means a schedule.

It’s not fun to stick to a routine but it does seem a part of normal life these days. It lets me manage my time and hopefully get the best out of myself. I can appreciate the limited time I have and make sure every day has work, writing and some sort of enjoyable activity.

It does mean some sort of sacrifice. Something is going to have to give. Social media is the first thing to go. It’s still there – you might have found this on Facebook or Twitter and such – and I’ll check back every now and then, but until I can make some sort of progress, it needs to stop distracting me.

The proverbial kick up the backside

Sometimes, we need something else to get back into the swing of things. Whenever I submit any kind of writing to something/somewhere/someone, I always ask for feedback. In most cases, it doesn’t happen but occasionally it does, and it can sometimes be that kick needed.

I was told this particular story had basically no chance of going anywhere without serious work – a complete overhaul of the story. I’m not sure what exactly that overhaul needs yet, maybe I never will, but that’s okay.

There was something positive to come from it. I was told my writing is good. The form, the technical ability, the style etc – overall, I’m a good writer. I know that, or I wouldn’t have made it this far but it’s good to hear, and from a stranger. Every so often, we need that compliment and I know there are better stories in me, already in the works. If I get them done, I may just have a chance to make a real career out of this!

Coping with Feedback and Criticism

Apologies guys and gals, I’ve been pretty lax recently. I wish I could say that writing is my priority – I want it to be, definitely – but life likes to throw curve balls. Call it destiny, fate, karma, chance or whatever. It happens.

It happened to me a few months back. I was made redundant, at just what I felt was the worst time as I had just about gotten out of most immediate debt and was making plans going forward. Well, those got scrapped.

Now, fast forward a couple of months and I’m working full time again. Brilliant. However, there’s more travelling and adapting to a new workplace and job and this takes time so while I’m trying to keep up, it’ll take a while until I’m back to ‘normal’ again.

A little inspiration

Before this all happened, I’ve been trying to get my novella out there and hopefully published. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone amazingly well so far. I’m not surprised by this – I expected it and if you read my post on dealing with rejection earlier this year, you’ll know that. If you haven’t, go back and it read it now.

I sent it out somewhere else over the summer thanks to a friend who pointed me to it. With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot about it but when a reply came, it actually gave me a little hope!

Receiving feedback

Now, I’ve done a post last year on group feedback but I want to go a bit further, and look at this in a different way here.

Whenever I submit my novella I always ask for feedback. Sometimes you’re told not to but if you don’t ask then you don’t get and this time it paid off. Despite the fact that this was, in essence, another rejection it didn’t actually matter. Receiving a reply is good because you get closure on that particular submission but getting feedback means I have something a bit more concrete to go on.

So, what was I told? Well, the first point was the topics that I’m writing about are “really interesting and certainly meaty enough for novel material” and that is a huge boost. While not everyone will like everything, knowing that is like a fundamental thumbs up for what I’m working on. Now, I’ve been doing this as a novella, as I feel it’s a lot sharper and more concise but the “novel material” comment has opened up a whole new can of worms.

I COULD make this into a novel but would I be able to carry over the tension and emotion through an entire book? That’s an interesting idea – and what about my ending? Would that work or would I need something else.

What I need to work on, in this person’s opinion, is making things less explicit and letting the reader, you, figure it out for yourself. That is something I generally agree with but in this case, I’m wondering if I’ll lose part of the character by doing so as he is quite direct and the novel is from his point of view.

There are a few other points but I’m keeping those to myself. You get the idea, however.

Reacting and dealing with it

Dealing with feedback and criticism can be hard at times. When you’ve spent hours, days, months, weeks – maybe even years – on a project, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, a piece of art, music or anything else, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that there are things wrong with it.

That’s a natural response.

To really improve though, that outside perceptive is essential. I have a couple of people I can count on to proof what I’m doing and offer feedback but even then, I have to weigh up what they say with what I feel, want and know. It’s a hard balance to find.

When an expert gives you advice and feedback, you have to grab it with both hands and really think about it. For every sentence, note, brushstroke or whatever it is you use to create your masterpiece, compare it with what they say. They’re an expert for a reason and if you want to be one, you need to learn from them.

The problem isn’t getting over your pride, though; it’s getting over your fear.

The fear that by editing it further, especially based on the words of someone else, that your project becomes less what you wanted and more of what someone else thinks. You lose the core or essence of what you are trying to achieve. It ceases to be what you want and becomes something else.

It’s incredibly hard and by denying we do this, we give it more power. It’s another wall we don’t need to put up but it’s almost instinctual for any creative person to make sure that we can identify with our work, that others can too and that it represents the best of what we can do in that moment.

Deep stuff, huh?

So, what’s the answer?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an answer to that. I’m not sure I ever will.

What I do know is that one person’s opinion doesn’t mean that you should abandon everything you think or feel. What I do know is that sometimes there are people who know more about what you’re trying to do than do you. What I do know is that you need to be able to adapt to anything that happens, in life, love, work – anything.

I’m not saying that I’m going to change my entire novella based on one person’s feedback but I have to take on-board what I’ve been told. I’ve gone to them because they’re the expert and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some real advice. I’d be a fool not to consider everything carefully before going forward, right?

Sounds like a good life lesson in general, if I’m honest.

‘Till next time!