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.
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