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From Idea to Book (Part 5)
It’s been a few months but we’re finally returning to this series of practical tips based upon my own experience of tackling the mountain that is the writing process. So far, I’ve covered Forming & Developing an Idea (Part 1), Creating & Developing Characters (Part 2), the Importance of Time & Place (Part 3), and Plotting (Part 4). This month, I’ll be explaining my editing process both during and after my writing of a book. Rather than write one full draft before editing it to get the second, I edit as I go along. I’ve found this is the best approach for me but, like with everything I’ve shared in this series, it might not be suitable for everyone.
If you have a question that isn’t covered in any of these segments, feel free to send me a direct message on either Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. I’m also happy for you to email me directly at email@example.com.
Write, Edit, Repeat
I do not track my word count whilst writing, nor do I set myself daily word count goals. When I do, I find it puts too much pressure on me, and it becomes about the quantity rather than the quality of my writing. Instead, I track my progress in terms of “scenes” and chapters. Each of the latter is comprised of several of the former. Therefore, I usually write a scene one day and edit it the next. I do not move onto a new scene before I’m satisfied with the first. Consequently, my chapters have between eleven – seventeen drafts.
Edit with purpose
When editing, it’s easy to slip into the mindset of “I just want it to sound good.” Unfortunately, “sounding good” is such a broad term, it can lead one to overedit one’s writing into a flowery yet lifeless mess. Every book contains the soul of the story, as well as the writer. Too much editing can exorcise the soul and leave the book feeling flat. When I edit, I do so with a purpose in mind. For example, am I changing an inconsistency in the plot? Am I tweaking a character’s reaction to bring it in line with their established wants, desires, and personality? Am I tightening up the descriptions or dialogue? By knowing what it is I want to change, I’m giving myself boundaries to work within. Thus, I avoid the trap of trying to make it “sound good.”
Break-up the chapters
For me, there is nothing more intimidating than a 200+ page manuscript when editing. The high quantity all at once not only makes one feel like one has a mountain to climb, it can make editing laborious, i.e., all that scrolling up and down through pages upon pages of text. I’ve found the approach of saving my manuscript in one file, whilst I’m writing/editing it, makes it difficult for me to track everything in my mind. As a result, I get confused and frustrated. Instead, I save each chapter in a separate file and file old drafts into an “unused drafts” folder and the draft I intend to use in a “used chapters” folder. Separate files make jumping around the book to edit/re-write sections so much easier. It also prevents me from checking my ongoing word count at the end of each writing session!
Beta readers are worth their weight in gold
Once I’ve completed the writing and editing of my chapters, I put the book together and do a full read through. At this point, I make a note of changes I’d like to make but don’t implement them. I then send the full manuscript to my team of (honest) beta readers with the following areas for them to consider whilst reading:
• Characters – Consistency with past books
• Plot/Mystery - Content and Pace
I usually give the beta readers at least a month to read the book, during which time I do not return to the book myself. Once the month is over (or the beta reader finishes the book, whichever comes first), I gather their feedback on an individual basis via email. I then hold 1-2-1 discussions with the beta readers to interrogate them about their thoughts and feelings on the book. During these discussions we basically pick the book apart to identify its flaws and come up with potential solutions. If necessary, I then hold a group discussion with the entire beta team to identify anything we may have missed.
Once all the beta reader feedback has been gathered, I decide which pieces I’ll implement into the book in the form of edits/rewrites and which I’ll discard. You do not have to take onboard every piece of negative feedback you receive, especially if making the requested changes/rewrites would prove detrimental to the book. I make the changes/rewrites based upon the beta reader feedback I want to use and do a final read through of the entire manuscript in one sitting.
Every writer needs a professional editor
Regardless of whether you are a passionate reader, hold a PHD in English Literature, or are the Royal Advisor on Grammar (I don’t know if that is even a thing!), you must hire a professional editor to go through your manuscript. A second pair of eyes will usually pick up those glaring errors you missed. A professional second pair of eyes will help you tighten up your grammar, too. My editor, Sue Soares of SJS Editing Services, will do two rounds of line edits on my manuscript after I’ve completed the beta reading process. Inevitably, one or two errors will slip through the net (it happens to even traditionally published authors) but, provided the overall standard of the book is high, readers will usually forgive this.
NEXT MONTH: Formatting your book for publication and cover design.
~ T.G. Campbell, April 2023