I have finished the final re-write of ‘The Art of Survival’, the second in my crime series set in Scarborough. The first in the series, ‘The Art of the Imperfect’, is already out on Kindle and in paperback: http://goo.gl/z7HFgz
I have written previous blogs about the many hats worn by an indie publisher/author. But the re-writing stage is possibly one worth re-visiting.
Drawing on my own experience and also my times as creative writing tutor/facilitator, I would say a writer without the support of an experienced editor makes three mistakes: we re-write too early; we ask for feedback at the wrong time; and we ask for it from the wrong people.
I have seen this quote attributed to Jodi Picoult, though I am sure other writers have said it: ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’ First rule of writing, get the words down. In addition, the impulse to re-write too quickly, I think, blocks creativity. I liken it to trying to go forward in reverse gear. It’s grinding, it’s exhausting and ultimately ineffective. It causes the writer to begin to doubt their capabilities and become too caught up in ‘getting it right’. Doubt and trying to please some unseen but very loud critical voice are the last things our imagination need. If we’re going to write the sparky, innovative, exciting stuff which readers want, we need to get messy, go wild, be un-girdled.
The second error is to re-write, re-write and hone before we ask for feedback. OK, yes, our manuscript has to be readable, but if we’ve thrown a tanker-load of energy and time into it, as well as our hearts, how much harder is it to listen to someone taking it apart? There’s a moment for asking for critical comment, and it’s not once we’re happy with our work. It’s sometime between the point at which we’re developing our precious ideas and the point when we feel our story is fully-fledged.
Finally, we need to choose our critical readers carefully. Let them be other writers, people who respect our writing and us and who, hopefully, don’t have their own axe to ground. Plus, I wouldn’t allow critical readers free rein, I would ask them specific questions to focus them on the areas where I feel I need the most help. How many? Stephen King suggests four. I had three for ‘The Art of Survival’ and I want to thank Sue, Ruth & Jane for all their support.
Then comes the re-write. By the time I come to it, I’ve left my story for several weeks if not months, so I re-read it, trying as hard as I can to imagine myself in a reader’s shoes. I make notes for myself. I then have the list of my thoughts and those of my critical readers. I read again hand-writing on the manuscript the changes which need to be made in order to incorporate this commentary. Then I’m back on the computer to mould the story into its final version, using my annotated manuscript as a guide. This is still, for me, a pleasurable creative activity, there are areas which need substantial re-writing.
Going back to Stephen King (and why not, he’s done pretty well for himself) he says at this stage he’s mostly cutting. I have found myself mostly adding, making links. When I am writing I tend to forget readers haven’t lived with these characters as long as I have so may not be exactly au fait with their back-story. Plus, since I am writing a series, there are aspects to the characters and action which have to be brought through from novel 1 and set-up for novel 3, ‘The Art of Breathing’ (in draft form). Enough for new readers to catch on and not too much to bore those who have already lapped up ‘The Art of the Imperfect’.
I count myself enormously lucky as this time I am able to afford a copyeditor and a proof reader. And I am very excited to be working with http://charlottecoleeditorial.com/ and David Powning (http://inkwrapped.com/)
I am waiting a couple of weeks before I do my final read through before passing it onto Charlotte for the copyediting. Therefore, given the sun is shining, I will take myself off this computer and head out doors to the wonderful Scarborough beach.