We’re getting toward the end of our series of questions on self-editing, which our guest expert Renni Browne is answering. As many of you know, Renni wrote the book on self-editing and runs a leading editing service.
I’ll start by responding to a couple of comments from today:
I just jumped in and read all the posts on this topic and the question about hiring a professional editor still niggles me: Can a first-time author really recoup the cost?
It depends a LOT where you are in the process. If you are a beginning writer (what I call a Freshman), then you should be frugal. Buy some books on writing, go to a local one-day writing conference, invest in an inexpensive course such as Fiction 101, etc. I don’t advise spending a lot of money, because you don’t know for sure yet that you really have the writing bug and the persistence required to become a published author.
By the time you’re a Junior or a Senior, you KNOW you have the writing bug and you have quit asking unanswerable questions such as “Do I have talent?” (Talent is good, but it is over-rated. Persistence, a good work ethic, and raw emotive force are more important.) By your Junior year, you are probably going to a good (and expensive) conference every year. Somewhere between your Junior and Senior year, it may well be cost-effective to start working with a good freelance editor.
Be clear on this: a freelance editor can’t make something out of nothing. You need to develop your skills a bit first. Once you’ve done that and you’re getting close to publishable, then’s the time to take your writing to that pesky next level. I didn’t hire my first free-lance editor until my third novel. I probably should have started sooner, but my first two novels got published and won awards without an editor.
This is just a fact of life: Writing fiction is an expensive hobby that often doesn’t pay very well. We all know the exceptions, the Tom Clancys and Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowlings of the world who make big bucks. But these are the EXCEPTIONS. Most novelists have a day job. That’s just a sad fact that is due to the fact that the universe is unfair. Deal with that and resolve to take actions now to beat the odds.
I’m kind of thinking though, that you totally missed my question. It was the first one that got asked on self-editing and I think you probably missed it.
It’s no big deal and I certainly don’t want any favoritism, but it’s a question that’s been really burning in my mind and I have no idea who else to ask it to.
Randy sez: Oops! It’s entirely possible that I missed it. A lot of questions came in. Go ahead and post it again here as a comment. My apologies!
There are changes I want to make to some of the conversations and events in what’s written so far before I CAN continue writing the rest of the story (the changes will affect what I’m currently writing and I’m afraid I’ll forget or it won’t make sense to me later at re-write stage). But I AM CERTAIN that if I go back into those chapters, I’ll get sucked into editing stuff that I should leave alone for now. I have inserted some track changes comments, but it’s better if I stay out of the ms entirely. So I took the time to make a new brief outline of the chapters so far showing the additions and changes and I hope to follow THIS instead of getting sucked back into the ms. We’ll see if it works. Any advice would be appreciated.
Renni answered: I don’t see how an outline is going to keep you from having an idea (and then executing a change) that isn’t in the outline, but hey, whatever works. Otherwise? It sounds to me as if you’re too close to the story. I think your assessment of your situation is astute; I also think your smart option is professional feedback. You want to make your novel as good as it can possibly be. You can’t do that without going back into it, and you know yourself well enough to realize that this will set off a whole new round of additions and deletions and second-guessing yourself. An experienced, objective take on what you’ve got and what it could be might not only be just what the novel needs, it might make you actually enjoy being back in the manuscript.
Randy adds: Camillie, if I’m not mistaken, you’re still working on your first novel, right? Given that, I’d say, forge ahead and finish the beast! Use that outline of yours, keep moving forward, and prove to yourself that you can finish a book you started. That’ll give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment and confidence that you can edit the thing. Then go back and look at the high-level issues. If you have a critique buddy, get her advice.
A lot of writing conferences offer paid critiques by published authors for $25 or so. That can be a good investment if it shows you some consistent problems in your writing. When I was close to selling my first novel, I asked a friend of mine who happened to be a NY Times best-selling novelist to read a couple of chapters. She graciously did it for free (this was at a writing conference, and she was a friend, not somebody I approached out of the blue). I still have her hand-written comments of those chapters. Even those few pages exposed 2 or 3 consistent errors I was making in my writing. I identified the problems and then fixed the other 300+ pages of the manuscript. Not long after that, I sold that book.
I won’t tell you the name of this friend, because I don’t want to see her deluged with requests for free critiques. You should only ask friends for free critiques, and you should NOT make friends with people solely to get them to critique your work. Make friends with people whom you intend to be a friend to. If you can help them or they can help you, that’s frosting on the friendship cake.
Renni: thank you. “Seek Professional help” is something I hear a lot. And I’m sure an objective eye will make all the difference.
Randy: thanks, as always, for the coaching.
“Talent is good, but it is over-rated. Persistence, a good work ethic, and raw emotive force are more important.”
Good call! I’m not sure what ‘raw emotive force’ is, but I’ll try to develop some.
Pam Halter says
I know this has been mentioned before, but I want to stress it again: when you are done your manuscript, let it sit for a week or so. THEN go back and edit.
I’m reading through my middle grade novel right now and, boy, did I ever find a glaring mistake! I let the story sit for 2 weeks, and now I’m going slowly through it while I’m waiting to hear back from an agent who has the first three chapters.
If you can, let it sit and cool before you start sifting through it. It’s worth it.
The advice for a rookie to “go to a local one-day writing conference” makes perfect sense to me, but brings up another question:
I don’t really know how to find such a conference – do you have any good resources?
Christophe Desmecht says
No worries, Randy. I figured it got lost in the bunch 🙂
Here is my question:
How do you edit a chapter that has been rewritten ten times? A chapter that you can’t get a clear view of anymore because you have all the ghosts of the previous versions haunting your brain. It’s been rewritten so much you can’t make out anymore if it’s good or bad or somewhere in between.
I’m going through NaNoWriMo and doing pretty well. About 25.000 words written and two more writing sessions to go until the half-way mark. I’m so looking forward to finishing my first novel after restarting for the third time, it’s not even remotely funny anymore.
Paulette Harris says
I have really enjoyed all the work done on this subject.
I am possibly a late Junior or beginning Senior in reference to where I am at in the writing world. I have articles, etc published, but no novel. I am working on my fourth one. I say that because I feel so much better since I read the latest posting. I don’t consider myself to have much natural talent, but….I do have God given persistence and won’t stop writing because it is a burning desire to get the Word of God out to a generation that we seem to be losing.
I am grateful for your willing hearts to take us to the next step. So thank you Randy and Renni.
D.E. Hale says
Well, I just want you to know that this editing topic has really helped me get back to working on my trilogy again. Instead of just ignoring them, and hoping that the writing fairies would show up in the middle of the night and fix them, I have a plan of action now.
I need to do a “snowflake” for all three of them, to see if everything is in the correct order and makes sense. If not, then I need to fix it, rearrange it, whatever. Looking back, the writing isn’t horrible, so hopefully MOST of it is still usable, with a bit of “tweaking” to the rest.
So, that brings me to a question Randy. In writing a trilogy, do I need to do one GIANT snowflake for the ENTIRE story, or just each book, or both? What’s the best way to go about that.
Karla Akins says
I have been much encouraged by this thread and even made a new friend and writing buddy. (Waving at Paul.) Thanks, Randy, for your encouragement. At least this gives us all a plan of action and if we heed your advice we won’t be floundering in darkness with no sense of direction. I have gotten some great direction from you these past few months. God Bless You for it!
Paulette, the Lord reminded me of a great verse this week: “In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.”
Proverbs 14:23 In other words, hard work, not just talking about what you want to do gets results!
The older I get the more I’m convinced that talent is only a small part of success in anything. Hard work will get you where you want to go. I tell my students this, too. It doesn’t take being smart to do well in school. Work hard, (and work smart), and you will succeed.
Andie Mock says
By “raw emotive force” substitute “Conflict”. I just got 4 chapters back to rewrite from NY Times bestselling author who is mentoring my novel for publication.
Must have been asleep when I wrote these chapters. They read like a travelogue and not a good one. It was easy to see why. There’s not a stick on conflict in them.
I got strict with myself used Randy’s advice to use Swain’s Goal, Conflict, Disaster method and left each chapter as a cliff hanger. Voila, a metric ton of fast improvement!