Edit, edit, edit…

Last time I posted, I’d just realized I probably ought to made a few changes to my book, in order to make it more palatable to agents.

Well, that short revision turned into another revising and editing pass. There are still obvious issues to be fixed (especially in the first chapters) and that’s probably in large part why my querying isn’t going so well.

On the plus side, I’ve re-edited over half of the manuscript so far, and I am almost on top of my real-life obligations as well. Which means I should be able to get back on querying soon.

On the minus side, I haven’t written a new word in weeks. It’s been extremely frustrating: whenever I have the time, I don’t have the energy. It’s the curse of the unpublished author: we can’t justify focusing solely on our writing career, so there’s only so much work we can put on books in a day, and so it’s hard to get published.

Which means I better get back to work.

Real Life and its Inevitable Consequences

The last month has been extremely busy and exhausting – so much that even banging out quick updates for this blog became daunting.

But that’s over. I’m still recuperating, but at least I’m going into the weekend rested enough that working on my writing will be plausible.

So, what are the plans for the next few weeks?

First, I need to do some maintenance on my query spreadsheet – I need to figure out how many of my queries are still live, and who are my next targets. Then I’ll write a long overdue query report (which will probably be depressing, but oh well.)

I’m also going to reread Book the First. It won’t be a full editing pass (although I’ll surely do some edits) but I need to get it back in mind, because I’m considering a few smallish changes. Specifically, I wrote a short prologue that serves as a framing device, and judging from the feedback I received from agents, it’s not working all that well. I want to see if it’s necessary or not to the story.

And while I’m at it, I should probably give the first three chapters another thorough editing pass (and especially chapter 1.) They’re good, but not great, and apparently great is what’s needed to hook agents.

That’s going to be hard, unexciting work, so I’ll keep working on my other books as well. Unless my schedule takes another hit, I think I could have a Shitty First Draft done by late August.

So that’s what I’m looking toward.

Editing: Done!

I’ve been meaning to post this for a few days.

WOOHOO!

I’ve finished my third draft/second revision/neverending torment! Don’t get me wrong: doing that additional editing pass was absolutely worth it, but boy am I glad that’s done.

I’ve also ran the spellchecker (always worth it, even if it only caught a couple of mistypes) and formatted the manuscript to industry standards. All the actual text is as final as I can make it, although I probably need to think about the title some more.

The next step is *gasp* writing queries. I’ve put some work into that particular hellish task, enough to know that it won’t be easy. The factual/business part of the query letter will be easy enough (if there’s one thing you learn working in law, it’s how to write professional-looking letters), but I really need the in-voice description of the book to work, and so far my attempts have been of the not-worth-saving-the-file variety. Sigh. A good night’s sleep and a day off is what I need I think.

Still, I’d rather spend a day crafting a letter than doing Yet Another Revision. With that in mind, off to bed I go.

An Update with some Progress

Life has been relentless recently, but that doesn’t mean I’ve dropped the project.

In fact, I managed to get through a fairly important milestone: I’ve finished going through my list of planned verifications and corrections (what I call my search-and-destroy list.) Those were all the small, but noticeable issues I found while doing my second revision.

For example, I probably tend to probably use “probably” and other adverbs probably too often, probably. So I searched my entire manuscript for every instance of “ly”, and made sure to cut that down to a more reasonable ratio.

You’d be surprised how many small, relatively easy-to-correct issues like that cropped up. Clever constructions that I use more than once, metaphors and similes that are maybe too similar to once another… and of course, even more adverbs, probably.

You would also be surprised at how incredibly annoying fixing that can be. So getting that task out of the way is a pretty great step for me. Now I just have to:

  1. Finish my last reading-and-correct (I’m about 40% through);
  2. Run the autocorrect through my text, just in case;
  3. Touch up my presentation a bit – it’d be stupid to get rejected for purely cosmetic issues;
  4. Write and send my queries.

Can that be done in time to start a new manuscript during NaNoWriMo? We’ll see!

The Evolution of a Writer

Let’s take a quick break from whining about editing and look at writing instead. Specifically, I want to suggest a fun little exercise – one that I find both very informative and a great source of motivation when I don’t feel so gung-ho about my chances to make it as an author.

Take one of your favorite authors. Ideally, you want one who has written lots of books in a similar style.

Then read and compare his latest (and/or best-written book, if one qualifies) with the first book he or she wrote. Try and spot the differences in style, the weaker sections, and so on.

It’s surprising how amateurish some very-well received books look under that lense.

When I did that exercise the first time, it was with Jim Butcher’s Cold Days and his first Dresden short story, The Restoration of Faith. Now, that’s cheating a bit, because Restoration was only published several years later as part of an omnibus (and, as Butcher himself explains in his foreword to that particular story, it really was a first-try effort that “wasn’t ready for the commercial market.”)

But even if you compare, say, Storm Front (the first published Dresden Files book) to the later novels of the series, the evolution of Jim Butcher’s skills as a writer is obvious.

The point of the exercise is to realize that:

  1. Yes, practice does make you better. You’ll see it when going from the shitty first draft to the readable second draft, and you’ll see improvement from your first published novel to your last.
  2. Even the best authors started out as “merely okay” authors. Sure, they had good stories, and a certain level of writing skills, but they were probably not as good as you recall through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.

On Screens, Hardcopy and E-readers

I love my Kindle. As an avid reader, having access to an entire library with me when I’m on the bus, on a plane or on vacation is a godsend.

But lately, I’ve fallen in love with how it gives me a new perspective when re-reading my manuscript.

Obviously, most of my revision work has been done directly on my laptop screen. It’s where I work, there’re those handy red squiggly lines to let me know about typos, there’s a thesaurus (and Google) right in the next window over…

But at some point, you have to review your manuscript in hardcopy, if only because your eyes get too used to the text on screen. Reading your text on paper will let you spot other mistakes and, if you’re anything like me, will let you get a better sense of the timing of your novel.

Recently, I converted my manuscript to a PDF and threw it on my Kindle, figuring Yet Another Reading of the Book couldn’t hurt. I expected to find a few more mistakes and possible improvements. But let me tell you, seeing my work in the same type, size and format as everything else I’ve read in the last few years has been eye-opening.

On the plus side: the Book is really quite good. I’ve read commercially successful works in the same genre that weren’t as well written.

On the minus side: over a hundred additionnal small corrections to make already, and I’m nowhere near done with that re-reading. Well, good thing I wasn’t planning on querying this weekend.

But seriously: if you’re writing your own manuscript, get a Kindle (or another e-Reader.) It’s absolutely worth it just for the new perspective it will give you on your work.

Revising, Reviewing and Rewriting

Since I’m currently finalizing my manuscript, I figure now is the right time to discuss all the steps I went through to get there.

First, I wrote my first draft, skipping all those nitpicky details like “planning” or “writing an outline.” Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t as bad an idea as it seems. It probably cost me some efficiency, but on the other hand getting that first draft done was probably more important than getting it right. I needed to know that I could bring the project at least that far before running out of motivation.

Once I had that first draft done, however, it was time to make it good. So I grabbed my red pen, printed out the whole manuscript, and got to work. That first revision covered everything, from fixing plot holes to improving my characterization (and, of course, correcting all those inevitable typos and grammar issues.) In the process, I added about 20,000 words to the manuscript, bringing it up to a publishable size.

I also realized how much my writing had improved in the relatively small interval between starting my prologue and completing my epilogue. So I actually ended up my first revision with even greater motivation than ever before.

While I was revising, I was also sending my completed chapters to a pair of first readers. Inevitably, they caught mistakes I missed, but their input was also valuable for additional plot doctoring and characterization editing.

Which brings me up to now. As I wait for the final comments from the second of my first readers, I’ve started Yet Another Revision. This time, I put my book onto my Kindle, just to look at it from another perspective. And… it was a good idea. I still see small stuff I want to fix, some minor issues and weaker sections. It’s a bit frustrating to see how imperfect the book is… but on the other hand, I can see how quickly I’m improving my writing skills.

And on the plus side, I think that once I’m done with that final revision, the book will absolutely be of publishable quality. So it’s not as demotivating as “third revision” might imply.

Moral of the story: don’t underestimate the need for revising your work, but also don’t underestimate the benefits of doing so. I’ve gotten so much better at writing just by reviewing my work that even if Book 1 fails to ever see the light of day, I know that my next project will get closer to that goal.