Month: March 2017
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Again, thanks to our authors for participating in our Three Simple Questions series!
How did you go with their answers? Did you shake your head, find it impossible to empathise with any of them, and think you know better and can do it better? (This would be an unwise attitude given their experience, their accomplishments, and their knowledge.) Or did their answers resonate with you?
Working as an our editor, my experience with many authors – particularly those just finding their way in the industry – is this …
Question 1: What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
Many authors seek perfection with their first draft, painstakingly crafting every sentence, going back and revising, and quivering when they encounter any form of doubt, e.g. if somebody gives them feedback that queries some aspect of their story. Ultimately, what happens is they never finish a first draft because they’re constantly going over copy, trying to get it right.
We all have different standards when it comes to first drafts. For example, an experienced writer is likelier to produce a better-quality first draft than an inexperienced writer, because the experienced writer is both instinctively and consciously aware of many issues within writing (e.g. filters, exposition, expletive constructions).
This is why it’s important we keep learning and keep evolving. No matter how much talent we’re born with, no matter how boundless our imagination, we have to keep working at improving. It’s no different to any other field of expertise. As you develop, you write through the filter of your knowledge. Initially, when you begin writing, that filter might be huge, which means a lot of stuff you shouldn’t be doing slips through. As you learn more and more, it will shrink, although there may remain a few holes that let through bad habits.
The important thing is to keep writing, regardless of where we are in our writing life. The aim for everybody with a first draft is just to get it out on the page. It can be lean, it can be obese, it can be disjointed, it can be anything.
It just needs to be.
Question 2: How extensively do you revise?
Too many writers think that they’re done once they pump out a first draft. Or they’ll give it a quick reread and think that’s it. Finished. Perfect.
There’s a popular saying: Writing is rewriting.
Even the most experienced writer won’t produce an infallible first draft. The writing itself could be grammatically flawless. But does the content work as a whole? Is it cohesive? Is it overwritten in areas? Underwritten? How is the pacing? Are the characterisations three-dimensional? There are so many things to consider.
Relating back to the first point, the reason we can’t labour over all this in a first draft and try to get it all right is we simply don’t know how the work will unfold. Even if we’ve planned it out meticulously, we don’t know how we’ll realise our vision in prose, especially as we delve deeper into our story. In a fiction manuscript, that event we foreshadowed 10,000-words into the story now seems heavy-handed once we get 50,000-words in, but it did seem a good idea at the time. Or, in nonfiction, that fact we explained 5,000-words into the book now seems unnecessary as we need to explore that same fact in greater detail 40,000-words in. And, of course, it’s not going to be a matter of just one or two issues with a long form of work – there’s likelier to be numerous issues. For this reason, early drafts are always going to be malleable.
That’s where revision comes in. Revise, revise, revise. Revise until you can’t get anything more out of it. Put your writing away for at least a month, and then attack it again it with a fresh perspective and revise, revise, revise again.
Question 3: What do you want to get out of an editor?
A lot of people seem unclear on what to expect from an editor.
Some think an editor will ghostwrite for them. Just give the editor the copy, and they’ll rewrite it. Others think an editor is only there to correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and if they cite issues with content, they just don’t get it.
It depends on what stage of editing you’re at – a structural edit will look at the writing as a whole, at whether it works, if it’s overwritten or underwritten, if it’s cohesive, if characterisations are sound, if the content is logical and communicates what it’s trying to accomplish, if the writing is clear, and so on. A copyedit will correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and will reference any passages that are unclear or query word choices that don’t seem quite right.
An editor should help you shape your content and realise your vision.
Thanks for joining us during our Three Simple Questions series.
We hope that you found the blogs informative and useful!
March 23, 2017
How’ve you been keeping up with our authors? Nodding your head in agreement? Empathising? Learning something new? Or do you feel differently?
Remember, these are accomplished authors, and they represent different facets of writing. You’d have to think that they know – at the very least – a little bit about writing to have gotten to where they are today.
One of the best things you can do as a writer is learn from the wisdom of others. That doesn’t mean you have to do exactly as they do. Every writer has to find what works for them – that’s the qualifier: what works for you. Sometimes, this takes a bit of trial and error. But it’s worth seeing what’s worked for others, and seeing how you can integrate that into your own methodology.
Well, here we go with our final question for our authors …
Koraly Dimitriadis: ‘I am a really honest writer so I need brutal honesty from my editor. But I also need them to understand that I will listen to their advice but at the end of the day I am going to follow my own creative instincts. Having said that I have been told I am quite flexible!’
Tess Evans: ‘Most important to successful editing is mutual respect. The editor needs to understand what the book is about and to engage with it in the spirit in which it was written. If this is the case, the editing process can be collaborative, challenging and enjoyable. Both author and editor want the book to be the best it can be, and the author, who can’t read her/his work objectively, has to be open to suggestions. I like an editor to be rigorous. After all, a lot of people (I hope) will be reading the novel with my name on the cover.’
George Ivanoff: ‘Feedback. Direction. A kick up the backside.’
Julie Koh: ‘My ideal editor is someone who has an anal grip on grammar; pinpoints the lazy parts I thought I could get away with; helps me resolve wording that I just can’t seem to get right; and suggests changes that would never otherwise have occurred to me but that make total sense.’
Ryan O’Neill: ‘That they are on my wavelength, and see what I’m trying to do, and help me do it. I’ve been very lucky – every single editor I’ve ever worked with has been fantastic, and saved me from embarrassing myself with errors and mistakes many times. God bless editors.’
A.S. Patric: ‘An editor is much like a personal trainer for an athlete.’
Inga Simpson: ‘I think a great editor helps make a book the best it can be. More true to itself, rather than less. Editing is a creative process, too. It requires highly developed skills and a certain sensitivity.
‘I’m lucky enough to have worked with the same editor for all of my published books, who I admire very much as a person as well as an editor. It means that there is so much that doesn’t need explaining, and any conversations about sensitive areas or changes are easy. I feel like everything is my choice, rather than something imposed on me. But if she comes back to me a second time on something, I know she feels it needs changing.’
Laurie Steed: ‘For me, editors have always been great at spotting any inconsistencies, or repetition in word choice, and, for the most part, they’re the reader I need, although not always the one I want, given their capacity to spot an area for development! To be clear: every editor, bar a rare one or two, have made my work better for their insight. Some, sadly, have hung up their freelancing pencils for full-time gigs (hello, Natalie Book!), while others, such as Nicola Redhouse, Amanda Curtin, Susan Midalia, and Perry Woodward, are still making books better, even as we speak. With that said, you get out what you put in, to some extent … which is really a roundabout way of saying that an editor should be there to strengthen your already fine work, rather than bring you up to speed.’
Throughout this series, we hope you’ve learned something about both the different approaches to writing, but also the commonalities.
A huge thank you to every one of our authors for contributing.
Next week, we wrap up the Three Simple Questions series!
March 16, 2017
So, last week, we asked our authors What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
What did you think of their answers? How much of what you read either articulated what you instinctively believed, or gelled with what you already thought? Or did you learn something entirely new?
It’s interesting that, as writers, we can be distinct, but also share commonalities, which shows that process can hold true for all of us – regardless of how unique we are as people, where we are in our writing life, and what we write.
This week, the second question we’re putting to our authors is …
Koraly Dimitriadis:: ‘Depends on the piece of writing. If it’s a poem, not much. My novel I have been working on and off for years and years. I usually do a full draft then leave it for six months and work on something else. It really depends on if there’s a deadline or not. My theatre show I had a date which I had to stage it so I had to move faster in my revisions. I find if I have a deadline it makes me do it faster, even if that’s a deadline I set for myself like submitting to an award.’
Tess Evans: ‘Even though my first draft has been revised a number of times, there are editing tasks that can only be done when I have a view of the whole. At this point, I comb through the draft several more times, double-checking the time-line (not always successfully), looking for inconsistencies in characters and plot and judging whether a scene is long enough, too long or irrelevant. Sometimes a whole new scene needs to be written to enhance some aspect of character or plot. It’s here also, that I try to refine the language.
‘The next step is to seek feedback from friendly readers who aren’t afraid to criticise, and I rework aspects if necessary.
‘My final task is to read the whole manuscript aloud to look for small errors but mostly to ensure that the language sounds right.
‘I then send the draft to my agent, who sometimes has suggestions of her own. When we are both satisfied, it’s sent to the publisher.’
George Ivanoff: ‘Depends on the project. Novels have typically gone through ten or so drafts. My interactive You Choose kids books only go through about five drafts because they are planned out in much more detail. Short stories vary a great deal … some have had as little as three drafts; some as much as ten.’
Julie Koh: ‘It’s an inexact science. I keep going over the story until I think it’s good enough to pass on to my editor. That means reading the story line by line out loud when I’m getting near the end of the process and tweaking the wording until the rhythm and jokes sound good to my ear.’
Ryan O’Neill: ‘A lot. For a short story, anything from five to thirty-five drafts. For my latest book, I did about twelve drafts. Sometimes people will say that a piece of writing feels like it has been worked on too much. I think this is nonsense. If the writing lies there like a fish on a slab, it’s not because it has been overworked, it’s because it hasn’t been worked on enough. I don’t believe you lose freshness and energy throughout multiple drafts. The only downside is that you get too close to the work, and can no longer see what works and what doesn’t. Then it’s time to take a break and go back and revise it again.’
A.S. Patric: ‘Revision is evolution. Without it, we’re nothing.’
Inga Simpson: ‘That initial process means I have to do a lot of revision.
‘I work intensively on the manuscript for about a month. First I make a kind of map of the draft, to see what’s there, what it’s really about. When I was writing Nest, I thought it was about birds and art and living close to nature, but when I read it back, I realised it was also about motherhood and childlessness. It was not an entirely comfortable realisation, but I trusted it and worked to strengthen those bits and develop the theme throughout. I enjoy developing the themes and imagery most. And putting things in the right order, filling the gaps, cutting away the excess, landing those big moments – turning the manuscript into something more coherent and readable. If the first draft is about freedom, the second is about control. By the end of that process I have can hold the whole story in my head.
‘I will then work through the manuscript again, marking up the hard copy and tidying and polishing on screen, before sending it to my first reader. I’m always terrified that the idea is a complete disaster by then, but secretly hoping it is a little bit brilliant. These days it’s my publisher and editor who read it first, and they give me a sense of what’s working and what isn’t, and some informal structural feedback. Weirdly enough, the more convinced I am that the book is a complete disaster (most recently my first work of nonfiction, Understory) the more they seem to like the book.
‘Then I head into the regular in-house editing process: structural edit, line edit, and proofread. The feedback, and time passing in between each stage, give me a fresh look at it each time. All up, the editing process takes longer than getting that first draft down.’
Laurie Steed: ‘I revise to a ridiculous degree, really. In the space of writing and revising my debut novel, You Belong Here (now six years), I’ve had friends who’ve written and published three or four books. Of the six years spent working on the novel, at least three of those have been in revision, developing characters, tightening narrative arcs, or searching for the “third option” that makes an otherwise competent story that little bit braver, or more surprising.’
Next Week: Question 3!
March 9, 2017
Okay, here we go!
Last week, we looked at three simple questions:
- What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
- How extensively do you revise?
- What do you want to get out of an editor?
We’ve assembled a group of talented, diligent authors (see their bios in the orange sidebar – right) and have asked them the same questions.
This week, question one …
Koraly Dimitriadis: ‘With a first draft it’s really about getting your ideas, emotions and plans for the piece of work on the page so you don’t forget. There is nothing more frustrating than walking around all day with poetic lines or ideas in your mind and thinking, I’m going to forget this, I better write it down. I just want to empty myself of the story. I don’t really care what it looks like as I have no intention of showing it to anyone. It’s a brain dump.’
Tess Evans: ‘The short answer is “quite a lot”. I edit extensively on the way. Each day when I start to write, I revise the last few pages from the day before. This serves the dual purpose of rewriting where necessary and re-engaging with the world of the story. I also write each scene as it occurs in the narrative and rarely have to move one. At certain logical points I revise the whole of what I’ve written once again. So by the time I’ve finished the first draft, I expect that the narrative journey will be much the same as in the final draft, the sentences will be coherent and the voice well-established.’
George Ivanoff: ‘With a first draft I’m just aiming to get the story out of my head and onto the computer.’
Julie Koh: ‘For me, the first draft of a short story is about getting it organised. I pin down thoughts and scenes in a rough order that I think makes sense. Once the story is cohesive, and I’m sure it’s going to work well as a whole, then I’ll go through and refine it.’
Ryan O’Neill: ‘The only thing I look for is to get something down, however badly written or full of gaps. Get something down, no matter how bad, and you can work with it and improve it.’
A.S. Patric: ‘I don’t think in terms of drafts when I’m writing. Unless its poetry, where my first draft is my last draft, but that’s probably because I’m not a poet. With any kind of prose of whatever length, all of it is a mass of ideas, character details, themes and motifs, aesthetic pleasures, all evolving together until I feel it’s finished. Different metaphors work for different writers.
‘The drafting idea comes from a craftsman’s perspective where a carpenter might make a beautiful piece of furniture and her first draft might be when she feels what she’s making resembles the object she intended. Her table might not be finished but you can sit down at that table and eat a meal. Another metaphor might lead you to believe that there’s no drafts in writing the same way as there are no drafts in cooking. I put all the ingredients together and it’s ready when I place that meal down on the table for my family to eat.
‘I don’t ever feel like I’m dealing with something dead like wood, steel, concrete or plastic to create something functional, that resembles a chair or table. All of the materials I prefer to use are as close to living as possible. The meat is from the recently slaughtered; the fruit is still warm from the sun. And you are eating it with your friends and family alongside them after you’ve placed it on the table. So there are no drafts in writing for me. It’s fundamentally about taste and nutrition, communing and community.’
Inga Simpson: ‘First draft I’m just trying to get the story down. I’m quite practical and literal for a writer, so a lot of the initial writing process is keeping myself in a certain creative space where the story and characters reveal themselves organically and, at best, subconsciously. I don’t try and order things or plan very much at all. I only write for an hour or two each morning. What bubbles up, those bits that surprise me, are most fun to write and, I suspect, also the most fun to read. Like most writers, I find the middle, between 20,000 and 40,000 words, the most difficult – when the end is so far out of sight.’
Laurie Steed: ‘For me, the first draft is really about nutting out the foundations: Character, setting, and the key conflict. With that said I always ensure that the first draft is finished in one sitting, if at all humanly possible, so that it also captures a mood, or tone that I felt in that first rush of creativity.’
Next Week: Question 2!
March 2, 2017
Consider these three simple questions:
- What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
- How extensively do you revise?
- What do you want to get out of an editor?
What are your answers?
You might never have thought about any of these questions too deeply. Your expectations might be amorphous, and only gain definition when you’re faced with any of these circumstances.
But, if you’re going to write, they are questions worth thinking about.
What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
Some writers seek perfection with early drafts, agonizing over every paragraph, every sentence, every word. Others are happy to get their ideas out in whatever mess they fall, and try to perfect in revision.
How extensively do you revise?
Some writers pride themselves on producing quality early drafts that (they believe) don’t need much revision. Others torturously rework material over and over and over, trying to wring perfection from every pass, but never entirely comfortable with the text.
What do you want to get out of an editor?
Some authors are happy for editors to chop and change text, if not insert their own prose. Other authors find this overstepping, and prefer that the editor highlights passages and explains their concerns, so the author can then take whatever steps are required. And yet others don’t expect editors to do anything more than correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
This is a very basic insight into each of these three questions. As people, we’re unique. As writers, we try to be distinctive. But in terms of our practices, we share commonalities. For example, a question you might hear is this: Are you a planner or pantser? Meaning do you plan (hence: planner) your writing before you begin, or do you fly by the seat of your pants (hence pantster)? Generally, despite how different we are as writers and people, we’ll fall predominantly into one or the other category.
As far as these three simple questions go, you need to find a methodology that:
- helps you write
- helps you get the best out of yourself
- ensures you finish what you’re writing
- gives your writing every chance of succeeding, e.g. being published
- will ensure your writing connects with an audience.
Think about how you do these things and if what you’re doing works. You might think the way you’re doing things is fine, but never finish a first draft. Or you might have lots of material, but rarely get acceptances. You might be constantly at odds with editors, unsure why they don’t understand you or your writing.
And, most importantly, you might think you know it all.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll be asking these same questions to an array of established authors.
Next week, the first question: What do you look to achieve in a first draft?