Cristy Burne

Science writer, children's author, editor

15 things I learned redrafting my novel: how to edit your own work

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Regular readers may remember a post I made this time last year, after I emptied a bottle of water into my laptop case and drowned my WIP.

Today, a year later (!), I’m STILL working on the same book, draft 15, to be precise. It’s never taken me this long to finish a book before, but I’ve learned a lot along the way.

15 things I learned redrafting my novel

1) Better Out Than In
Don’t wait around for the perfect book. I wrote the first ending for this book in a flurry of activity. Almost none of that ending survives, but because I’d finished writing, I could start editing. You can’t sell half a book. But you can work on a mediocre book to make it better.

2) Time Really Helps
Each time I finish a draft, I think I’ve written The Final Draft. By the time I get around to reading The Final Draft again, I see errors in logic, continuity problems and rushed writing. This is one of the rare cases where being able to write only sporadically is very useful.

3) Beta Readers Really Help
Swallow your embarrassment and Just Do It. Ask a book-savvy friend to read your manuscript and give Big Picture Advice. This includes things like: I don’t think this scene is necessary, your ending sucks, have you thought about making more of this point, etc. This does not include things like: You made a typo on page 96.

4) Rewriting Really Helps
I have rewritten over and again, killing characters, shifting motivations, driving trucks across town and then back again only to explode the truck and move to a different city. And the more I write, the closer I get to something that actually works.

5) Throwing Out Scenes Really Helps
Deleting half-baked scenes frees me up. It’s fiction, after all, so you can bend and meld the story to your will. Forced scenes can be cut and better scenes can be written.

6) You Need To Make A Hole To Fill A Hole
Did I mention throwing out scenes? I threw out my main character, the main plot and main premise. But I finally learned that you sometimes need to make a hole to fill a hole. Don’t be afraid to prune like mad.

7) Not Writing Makes Me Cranky
I can’t go more than three or four days without working on my WIP. Any longer and I lose my grip on the story and its challenges. Plus, I start to resent anything that postpones my writing, which does not make for pleasant company.

8) Writing Too Much Makes Me Cranky
Writing for mega-long stretches (like I used to pre-children) makes me cranky too. The solution is an uninterrupted hour or three at the keyboard. One luxurious morning in a coffee shop. I appreciate these things so, so much.

9) Talking To Other Writers Is Inspiring
Join a critique group, do a writing workshop, meet a writerly friend, let seeds of info and encouragement filter through. Your WIP will love you for it. I play with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, am inspired by students from my writing workshops, attend writing expos, festivals and library nights. All of it helps.

10) Pen And Paper Work Differently
I’ve spent hours on the couch with pen and paper, working through plot options the Old-Fashioned Way. Pen and paper free you up to scribble and cross-out. I make flowcharts and diagrams, I propose a new course for my novel. Then, I go write it.

11) Tea And Coffee Work Differently.
A pot of green tea works for long, sustained, flowing concentration. A short mac works for turbo-boosting through a difficult bit of manuscript. (Two short macs works for tossing and turning all night, wishing I could sleep.)

12) Hard Work Is Worth It
Each of my books has taken longer to write than the last, and not just because of life being busy. Aiming for growth is hard, but it’s also satisfying. Stretch your boundaries; you can always un-stretch when you need to.

13) The Story Is More Important Than The Writing
There’s no point polishing a scene when you’re going to cut it a week later. What’s more important than writing is story. If you have a well-structured, clever and compelling story, your writing will flop over this skeleton like a decorative shroud. You can decorate and colour and primp and preen all you like, but if the skeleton’s flawed, you’re losing the battle.

14) The Writing Is More Important Then The Talking-About-Writing
Bum-On-Seat is the only way to finish a book. I tried new software, new desk, new theory, new bribes. The only proven way is to sit down and write.

15) There Will Always Be Another Draft
I know there’s more that can be done. There always is. But at some point you need to type The End and take a risk. If you’ve done the best you can, hopefully it’ll grab an editor’s attention. For me, it’s nearly that time. And that leads to Rejection, but that’s another post, and shall be told another time.

Good luck and happy editing!

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Author: cristyburne

Author: http://www.cristyburne.com

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