Letters in Lockdown Season 3, Episode 10, saying thank you to the NHS.
Why getting an editor was the best thing I ever did
I’m terrified of releasing my work on the world. There, I’ve said it. I’ve had an idea for a novel which has been percolating in my head for the past eleven years and yet it is still not published. I’ve written countless drafts, some of which I’m ashamed to say I’ve deleted in moments of pure insanity. I’ve renamed, restructured, reversed and rebelled. So what’s stopping me from giving it a go? One word. FEAR!
I’ve nothing to compare it to. I’m an avid reader so surely I’m a reasonable judge of what is good and bad literature? For me, it’s quite simple. I want to get lost in a story, be transported to another world. I want to connect with the characters, to care what happens to them, to experience the highs and lows of their journeys and to really miss them when I close the back page. That’s what I want from a story and that’s what I want to give to the world.
Yet when I read my manuscripts I get some glimpses of light coming through the cracks of my own incompetencies, but the awkwardness of the prose and unnaturalness of the dialogue rips me apart and I can’t see the light anymore. Is it good enough? Will it pass muster? I doubt it.
I long since decided to self-publish. I love social media and marketing and figured if my work is meant to be read it will find its way into the hands of the right readers. What I haven’t had until now is an editor, that is until I approached Ros. Ros is a friend who has an ability with language akin to a music maestro’s ear or a mathematician’s brain. She just knows when it’s grammatically correct. It sounds right. She agreed to take me on.
We’re working together one chapter at a time. I send it to her and she edits it, not with red pen, but the completed edited manuscript. I trust her to retain the integrity of my writing as she goes. Now here’s the catch. She won’t return it to me until I send her the next chapter. I’m chomping at the bit to know what she thinks each time, and desperate to see the finished result, but I hear absolutely nothing from her until I send her the next one. It makes me keep going and forces me to at least release my work to one person.
When I do, it’s always a joyful occasion. She tells me I’m a great storyteller and she can’t wait to hear what happens next. She encourages me to keep going. The chapters that are returned still sound like me, but I know they are cleaner and easier to read. Ros is a miracle-worker in my life and I know, because of her, that I will reach my goal of releasing my work on the world this year. Getting an editor was the best thing I ever did. What about you?
The very first time I had to give a presentation in a class at university my professor said something to me which has stuck with my ever since. He said, “you’re trying to give a lifetime of talks in one talk. You have a lifetime to give them so how about you tackle them one at a time and keep it simple?”
Keeping things simple, whether it be giving talks or writing novels, is easier said than done. We’re never just faced with a simple crossroads, but rather arrive head-on at a superhighway of different directions we could take our characters in. with that comes a crippling fear that we are going the wrong way, the imperfect way, the dead end way. What if we go a different way and it leads to the pot of gold at the end of the literary rainbow?
As I was preparing this blog post my mind started racing and ideas began streaming in. How about I write about the top five reasons why people never complete the novels they begin? Maybe one of those reasons is they overcomplicate things, but there are others, such as fear of failure, lack of time, no discipline, their heart just isn’t in it etc. But I have forced myself to stick to the point, and keep it simple.
In terms of writing, how many plots and sub-plots should there be? How many characters should I have? How many scenes should I visit? I’m always mindful of the book outline I saw by J.K. Rowling at the British Museum in which she listed one main plot and two sub-plots throughout the whole novel. Then there is A.A. Milne with his nine characters and Enid Blyton with just five. Every book we read has a different opinion so it’s little wonder we get caught up in mental knots and find it hard to move forwards. I don’t think there’s a magic number of sub-plots and characters. I just think readers know when we have too many. If in doubt, cut them out.
I always keep a separate note book beside me while I’m working called my “Ideas Book.” In it I scribble down all the extra thoughts and inspiration that comes my way so that I can get it out of my head and onto the page without muddying the waters of my W.I.P. A number of these ideas are ones I’ve come back to at a later date. There are enough others to last a lifetime, and as my professor said, I have a lifetime to write them.
Writing the blurb for the back of your book near the beginning is no bad thing. It can help you stay on track. If you can’t tell someone in thirty seconds what your book is about while stuck in a lift then you need to simplify it. If you don’t get it, no one else will.
So how do I simplify? I quite simply cut down, cut back and cut out. I cut down on the number of sub-plots so that I’m left with one or two. I cut back on any waffle, unnecessary trivialities, dull descriptions, and droning conversations, and I cut out any character who isn’t essential to the movement of my story. It’s brutal. But it’s worth it.
What are some of the things you do to keep your writing simple?