Friday, January 9, 2015

Author Panel: Transitioning from #AmWriting to #AmEditing

It's been almost two and half weeks since I finished my first draft. Everything I've read has told me to let the manuscript rest for a while (a week, three weeks, a month, longer) and then return to it with fresh eyes. The thing is, I'm struggling to stay away. All I want is to get back to it, to hang out with my characters again, and to revisit the story that I've been working on for so long. In an attempt to distract myself/get a bit more insight on what others have done, I've spoken to a group of authors about this very topic. I posed the same question to each of them and got a wide spectrum of responses. They each come from different backgrounds and with a range of publishing experiences. Some are traditionally published, some self-published, and some still unpublished. It was great to hear from so many authors, each handling this confusing stage in their own unique way. Every one of them has their "thing", their process. In a way it gives me hope. There's no one right way to make the switch from #amwriting to #amediting.
Here's what they had to say:

James Schannep ~ author of the Click Your Poison book series.

No matter what I'm working on, my first draft is terrible. Why? Because I don't let myself go back and edit until I'm done with the first draft. If something drastic changes, I'll rewrite the opener, but usually I press on until I get to the end. My first effort is this hideously deformed beast that only a mother could love. In the meantime, I leave myself copious notes about what to edit. In my Click Your Poison series (an interactive, branching-path narrative with 50+ possible endings) this gets complicated quickly. So no, I don't wait to edit. Otherwise I'd probably forget what I was doing. I keep meticulous track of "parallel paths" so I can go back and make sure they jive. After I've done rewrite after rewrite (as an example, some passes I go through looking for one specific character, to make sure their voice is distinct), I'll turn to beta-readers to make sure the story makes sense. After all, the whole story exists in my head, but readers will each have a unique journey through the book. It's quite the juggling act. But if I've done my job, each story you read will seamlessly flow from beginning to end without any hints of the surgery I've performed to get you there.

Lucas Heath ~ author of Erased, BoX, Betawolf, and the upcoming Sightless.

My editing process begins as I start writing a book. Instead of finishing a manuscript and sending it to my editor, I send chapters for her to edit while I'm writing, which helps immensely because it's easier for her to spot problems or plot holes. When it comes to my own editing, there are often times when I have writer's block and it's hard to continue on to a new chapter. When this happens, I go back to previous chapters that I haven't read in a while and edit them, which helps fight the writer’s block. When the manuscript is finally complete, I send the entire thing to my editor, with her edits and mine, and wait about a month for her to get back to me with new corrections. I make the suggested edits and then, one final time, I read through from beginning to end to make sure we didn't miss anything. Once I am done, I consider the book finished.

K.M. Zahrt ~ author of Odd Man Outlaw and Thanksgiving with Pop-Pop

The writing process varies somewhat from project to project based on a variety of factors: inspiration, time to work on it, research, etc. For book-length works, when a first draft is complete is hard to tell sometimes. On my first novel, Odd Man Outlaw, I wrote the first draft by hand. Then I made revisions while typed the thing up. I guess I would say that was the completion of the first draft. After that, I took two years off from working on it while I was in graduate school, but I wouldn't say I always take time off. For that one, the creative distance was helpful. I took another year off after the third draft before making the final revisions and edits. But, with some projects, taking time off is really disruptive. The novel I'm working on now is that way because it requires more specific research, keeping facts straight. So, it's easier for me if I can sort of stay focused in on it.  I usually do have more than one project going. Right now, I'm working my second novel, but I'm also writing short stories, when the time is right, for a new collection. I'm also a regular contributor to Michiganders Post, where I write mostly nonfiction--personal essays and reviews, so that's usually a little different. Some writers may have a strict process that works for them every time, but for me, each project takes its own trajectory. The process is easier and shorter for some projects; longer, more difficult for others. For short stories, I usually like to get through the full story arc while the idea is fresh in my mind, maybe one or two writing sessions. But that doesn't necessarily mean the final product will be much like the first draft. Some are; some aren't. For longer projects, I may do some editing along the way to help me moving forward, when new pages seem impossible to produce. That can help get me back in the story. The novel I'm working on now is that way. I drafted nearly 200 pages, then revised/edited many of those pages before moving on. Then, oddly enough, I drafted the last 50 pages of the story arc. I'm working on connecting the two sections now, which is a completely different approach to the way my first novel got done. Long story short, it depends.

Jasmine Brown ~ unpublished author
I tend to be so relieved I actually got through the first draft that I just sort of flop down and do nothing for maybe a week or two. Sometimes you get so freaking sick of your characters and the story that you just want to throw them out the window and not think for a min. You come back to it though, of course. There's a reason you stuck around to finish the book, and that's because you can see it being a book. You always have to keep in mind, though, that the first draft is supposed to suck ass. It's not going to be good. It'll be terrible. Once you accept that, you can face the first draft. Cringing and cursing and possibly crying the whole way, but you can face it. Another thing: there are drafts for a reason. It'll take a while to get through the first one and you'll want to edit as you go. Don't. Easiest thing to do is to make notes and comments on the side for things you want to change. It keeps it neat, and you can revisit later. It's a bit by bit process. It takes forever. A lot of people think the editing is easier than the actual writing. It's not. Might be harder. But it's worth it. Once you're past the first draft, and the second, you can start to see the story turning into a book people want to read. Just gotta keep the faith, I guess.

Travis Hightower ~ author of Bastion of Terra: Dreamland, Prime Time Spies, and the upcoming String Theory, Eye of the Tigress, and Tides of Pacifica

Once I complete a first draft I often go over the book itself by re-reading it and making whatever updates I can, but then I use author forums and networking with other authors to trade works and critique each other. I do this right away. Once I have chopped away at my story until it becomes THE story, I try to find a professional editor for mechanics only.

Philip Tolhurst ~ author of George and the Dragon and the upcoming Nicholas North - Schoolboy Detective

This largely depends on the project; mainly the size of the first draft and whether or not there is a deadline. As I'm self-published, the only deadlines I have to work to are either self-determined or set by publishers of anthologies I'm submitting work to. For example I'm currently reworking a Shakespeare play for an anthology and that's past its original deadline so that has gone straight from first draft into revising and editing. Both my other current projects, the sequel to my d├ębut novel and a short story set in the same universe, will go straight to editing once they are complete with very little delay. This is because I wish to publish the short story for free as soon as possible so that I can then concentrate my efforts on the sequel as I have a specific publication date set for the sequel that I do not want to miss. Other projects, like last years NaNoWriMo and the year prior to that, have barely seen the light of day since I wrote them. Last years NaNoWriMo project I intend to split into three novellas. So, later this year, I will return to that, split the work up and then edit each work separately. I'll then aim to publish them via KDP Select at some point starting in the autumn. 

Lynn Almengor ~ unpublished author of Limit Break
My novel alternates between multiple-POV’s, so I used a non-traditional writing plan that wound up working better than I hoped. Wanting to make sure that each of my four characters had a completely developed personality and story arc, I wrote their sections one at a time. When each first draft was done, I’d immediately content edit to make sure it was a cohesive whole while it was still fresh in my mind. Then I’d put it aside and start right away on the next character. When I had four complete stories, I put the chapters into the right order and then content edited everything a second time, as a lot had changed along the way. Again, I didn’t wait more than a few days before editing, but only because it had been so long since I’d touched the earlier characters that they felt new to me again.

To all of the participating authors: Thank you Lynn, Phil, Travis, Jasmine, K.M., Lucas, and James. I'm so happy that you all agreed to sprinkle bits of your collective wisdom on the rest of us.

To the rest of you: If you liked this and/or would like to participate in the next go-around, let me know! I'd love to hear from as many voices as possible as I continue on in my attempt to finish my book.

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