What's that? You've finished writing your book?! Holy shit, great work! You've just accomplished what most people in the world aspire to do 'one day', but never actually do because they have yet to discover just how hard and potentially soul-destroying it can be - banging away day after day on a keyboard, locked away from any semblance of civilisation, as your life slowly ebbs away into the ether.
"...I've been writing for HOW long?!"
But you're a rockstar. You pushed through all those social event invites and opportunities to shower and eat and be outside in the human world. You learned to live without knowing what day it was. You wrote your little bottom off. And consequently you totally deserve the wild night out (or in) filled with all kinds of wonderful drunken debauchery to celebrate. Because YOU BLOODY WELL WROTE A BOOK! *cartwheels* Cut to: The morning after. Or (for some of you energetic types) the month after. You pick your head up and try to focus. What were you celebrating again? Oh yeah, YOU WROTE A BOOK! All is good. So good, in fact, that you immediately stand up, put your hands on your hips and survey the world before you like the writing god that you are. Then two little words cross your mind. "What now?" For most people - me included - this next part was easy. OBVIOUSLY the 'what now' involved sending the hot little manuscript out to agents and publishers as fast as possible. Because these guys have been waiting their whole lives for this story. They've suffered the Harry Potters of the world only because they had nothing else to run with. They simply can't go another day publishing such dross. Wait 'til they get a load of you - lord and saviour of storytelling! And even better? Today you don't even have to include other people in your publishing dream. Simply sign your soul away to the mighty Amazonian Overlord and upload it for immediate global gratification. Cue media attention, 'the next big thing' news stories, blogger groupies, film deals, and lifelong happiness. Ahem. <dials back sarcasm> <pushes glasses up nose> <looks serious> Okay, look, it's not that it CAN'T happen that way. It has obviously been done. But for most of us - those who offer the craft a little more respect and/or those of us without such gigantic balls - there's a totally different 'what now' that comes after writing a book. A 'what now' that might make you cry at the very thought of it, but one that is essential, can actually be damn good fun, and will ultimately MAKE YOU A BETTER WRITER. Which is revision. And rewriting. And editing. Because it's a book. You bled into it and gave it life, but now you need to sew up the wounds and clean it up a bit. Although you might well have a great first draft, I guarantee you it isn't perfect - it will never be perfect - and you can and should make it better. So how do you go about editing your manuscript? Well, for most it's a case of doing the hard yards yourself. As we let our work settle, perhaps hidden away in drawer for a few weeks to get it out of our system (how many weeks is really up to you, but I give mine at least a month), we can read up on the editing process, learning how to do it best - before embarking on a few rounds of revisions to bring the best out of our characters and story. Perhaps we ask for feedback from others (family, friends, or the fabled Critique Partners), or perhaps we don't. Either way, the level of eventual suckage/brilliance is all on us. But others know that sometimes writers aren't always the best judge of their work. Even after a few weeks away from a project, we can still read it and 'fill in the blanks' where everyone else would disappear down an unexpected plot hole. In which case, after you've done as much as you can, a fresh pair of eyes is needed. And what better pair than those of a professional editor? At this point I could drone about my own experience with these paths (yes I took both), but if you haven't done so already, why not get the inside skinny from a couple of industry pros? An author and editor who know the business of editing backwards. Check out my interview with Michael J. Martinez the critically acclaimed author here.
[First published Tuesday 31 March 2015]