A few months ago, I hired an editor to take a look at my novel. This was a big step for me, to look beyond beta readers and go for more professional advice. I took my time to find the right one and with their help, picked the right services.
Once the first step had been completed, I took some time to think about the feedback I’d been given and how I could best make the changes needed to address the points I wanted to – some were points left intentionally to work into the trilogy as a whole.
Now, I’ve finished my part of it and I’m ready to move onto the next step.
Taking some time to process things
I’m fortunate that I’m used to receiving feedback. Hell, I look forward to it. I always want to do better and improve my craft and my stories.
That’s why I was able to take the feedback on board quite quickly and start making a plan. Most of it was positive, and I decided that fewer smaller changes would do much better than a few larger ones. This meant I’d have to pay attention to smaller details and the ramifications of those throughout the manuscript but, even now it’s done, I stand by that choice.
I spent a chunk of time wondering if I’d done too much, or not enough, but in the end, I’ll see what the next phase of this process throws at me and what needs to be done next. Either way, I’ll be more aware of this going forward with the next book.
Even then, the feedback I didn’t expect didn’t knock me down too much, either. Some of it related to things I want to address in further books to make them more connected, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it entirely here.
I can see now the benefits an expert’s eye can bring.
Dealing with distractions
As you might know by now, I tend not to stick around in one place for too long. The last year saw me stick to Wellington, with work and Covid both playing a part in that decision.
I had hoped that my last few weeks at Wellington would let me go through the manuscript and get it ready for the next service I need to have done, but as usual, life had other plans.
I managed bits and pieces but there were friends to see and say goodbye to, work to finish and packing to do. I’m the kind of person who likes to set aside time and get on with things, but given my nomadic lifestyle, I don’t want to miss out on life, either.
That means I had to take some distractions and finish the work this week, while in my current home of Queenstown. It’s been a good balance; explore, do things and write. I can’t complain at all, so far, and it’s worked out nicely, if I do say so!
Having got it done, there’s a sense of relief.
Don’t’ get me wrong, there’s still more to do. Another round with my editor, Rachel, is coming early next year and even beyond that, there’s the work to get everything ready to self-publish. That means that while I can relax a little and take a little breather, there’s no time to let up.
Not only that, but books two and three are looming. Their first drafts are done but I don’t want those redrafts to take as long as this one has.
Even with my travelling, I’m going to have to get better at managing my time.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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
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
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.
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?’
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.
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!
I hoped to post this last week but, according to my schedule, there are still two weeks until the next post so I’m safe (the glory of a five-week month) for now. I teased previously about why I’ve been so quiet lately, with a lot of things on the go and now I’m finally ready to show you what I’ve been working on.
So, here are my three babies manuscripts. Aren’t they pretty…?
What are they?
From left to right, there’s a novella in third draft, a novel in first draft and another novel in first draft (yes, that’s a long way of saying it but I’m enjoying my words. Hush). I feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long to get this far but then I remembered life easily gets in the way. That’s a whole different topic.
I hope they’re all published one day, obviously, but I’m proud of reaching this stage. I’ve covered fiction, fantasy and science fiction (in that order, respectively) so not completely in my comfort zone but trying something new is always harder than anything else. Maybe that’s why it’s only a novella right now, but who knows what could happen.
If you want to read them – tough! They’re not ready yet but when I’m looking for readers, I’ll let you know.
Editing! The novels are only in first draft and need a fair bit of work. There are plenty of inaccuracies and continuity errors – and that’s not counting the grammatical issues. Who said writing was easy? Then again, I like a challenge. I’ll distract myself with redrafting some short stories in between as there are plenty of competitions to enter. When I find them, I’ll put them up here as normal.
Blogging resumes as normal (I promise) in two weeks. Updates on the editing will come as and when there is something to report. Until next time!
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!
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.
Sure, there are times when you may work in a group to get some writing done – whether that’s for ideas or actually scribing and contributing or something else entirely doesn’t matter – but for the most part, writing is seen as a solo activity. This is something most writers accept, we know we’ll be sat in front of a screen or notepad for long periods of time, probably with plenty of snacks, coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes or whatever other vice we succumb to.
There are times, however, that we could use outside help. Getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over our work can help us find the most obvious mistakes, as well as the most hidden problems.
You can look at the same sheet of paper or page of text all you want, but chances are you’re going to miss something. I’ve always found that unless I’ve given myself enough of a break between edits and redrafts, I can’t spot the mistakes that are glaringly obvious all the time. Fresh eyes can help, and for those times when you don’t have time to wait, other people are a great choice if you trust their editing skills.
I know a fair few writers now, thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter and, of course, my university course, where I met a great number of talented writers. Thanks to them, I was able to grow a lot. It took a while to get the brutally honest feedback I like, but it proved invaluable when it arrived.
I’m always welcome to this criticism for my work. It helps me grow but it has to be positive and constructive, otherwise it’s just someone attacking you (or your work) with no benefit. This is a fine line for some people and this is why writing groups are useful.
I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a number of writing groups over the years. Some have been great, others haven’t been as worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as putting in what you want to get out as you’re relying on others but if you find a good group of people, even if you don’t see each often or in person, then you’ll get more honest feedback – and that’s key.
Most writers I’ve met have some form of ego – that’s not a bad thing, we need it. To be successful, we’re going to receive a lot of rejection and criticism and it won’t all be positive. That ego will help us keep going but it’s important to keep it in check and use it to help ourselves and other writers, not act superior to others and put them down. If you find a writing group that does that, then walk away and find another.
These groups can help you meet people, you’ll gain inspiration and grow as a writer and a person. They’re not to be missed and the thing is, they’re everywhere! They’re hard to find but once you do find them, you’ll see the benefits very quickly.
My big tip; try not to be shy about your work – we’ve all been there.
Other resources to consider
There are two great resources that I’d like to share with you guys.
The first is Writers & Artists, which has a number of services that can be of assistance should you want to make use of them. If you don’t, or the money isn’t there, then there is a fantastic community with regular blogs and articles that can help you get the most out of your writing. These are both informative and enjoyable and will give you an idea of what to look out for from real writers who have been or are in similar situations. Joining the community lets you answer questions, share experiences and help others too. Finally, they run fantastic competitions which are always worth checking back with.
The next resources is one I’ve only discovered fairly recently, so I’m still exploring it’s features and getting to know it better but what I’ve seen is very interesting! It was recommended to me by a recent Twitter acquaintance so I’m passing it on.
It’s called WritersCafé and is another community that is great for getting feedback on your work. You can post full pieces or snippets at various stages, include notes and allow others to review it and offer suggestions and feedback. These people don’t (or will rarely) know you so you can expect honest feedback and by doing the same, you can improve your skills in this area and meet new people. It’s a win-win all around.
As a writer, I find the process of redrafting tedious at best. This is something that not even university has been able to make me enjoy, and when I delivered workshops, it was the hardest thing to get people to do. Writing can be fun and interesting but redrafting, while necessary, can be dull – especially on your own or working on your own piece.
The myths and barriers of a full redraft
In a workshop environment, a redraft can be engaging; it can spark a conversation or debate and it can bring out more ideas and thoughts that you never even considered. The problem is, for much longer pieces of writing, it’s not practical to be in a large group. Even if you have time to read it all, either in the session or in advance, it’s not fair on everyone.
That being said, they are incredibly useful and if you return the favour outside of a workshop environment, you can get some great insight into your work and even your plans for it going forward.
Now, I have nothing against e-readers and kindles. The world is going digital and people like the access. I much prefer reading paper (but I am definitely a fan of typing electronically – it saves me on paper and makes it easier to make changes or fix mistakes) and this includes m redrafting process. I do the best work after printing the piece, annotating in pen or pencil and making the changes electronically.
Running workshops with students and school groups is fun and challenging but the redrafting stage is one of the hardest ones to deal with successfully. Younger groups get bored easily but workshops can also be difficult because not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or giving their work to someone else – and friends aren’t always honest (or are sometimes honest without tact). So what do you do in this situation?
With a school group, speak to the teacher in question. They know the group better and can give you some advice on how they think and work. If there is an end goal or event for them, give them examples of what others have done – or even your own redrafting efforts – to let them know what they should be looking for but it should be appropriate for the age group you are working with. Older groups will do it because you ask, mostly, but in the end, this process will go beyond your workshop and it is down to each participant to do it and get the most out of you, your session and your experience.
The risk of refinement
One thing that I commonly find is that a redraft, of any length or depth, can dramatically alter the piece of writing – hopefully for the better. The problem is that any amends can change the flow of the story, and that’s something I value highly in all my writing. I’ve given up on too many books because they don’t flow and I don’t want my writing to suffer the same fate, so if something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t get saved or is reverted to the previous version that worked.
Now, in the moment, the story or piece flows because it came straight from your flow of thoughts. It might not make much sense at first but it can also be crystal clear at times. You can improve the sentence structure, tone, style or plot later but that will alter the flow. It takes a long time to get used to it, and no matter how much experience you have, we’ve all come to that infamous wall that takes us an age to climb over.
Once you make it over, not only does it get easier to redraft and refine the piece, but the results are better. Your confidence grows and that makes your work better. Giving yourself a break from the piece will help you see it with fresh eyes – not that there’s always time for a break, especially if you are studying or working to tight deadlines.
A blast from the past
It’s been over ten years since one of the most important pieces I’ve ever produced was “finished.” Over the next few months, I’m going to redraft the piece titled The Honour of Dying is No Honour At All and see how it compares to my younger self. While I fully expect to improve on the use of language, tone and setting, I’m very curious as to the flow of the story. How will I change it after all this time? I’ve always said I wouldn’t but I think that enough time has passed for me to give it a shot. Maybe I’ll do it again in another ten years – it could prove to be a good way to measure my skills and abilities. Watch this space to see how it goes!