Virgin Author Ch 3 Editing: Babies & Betas
BABIES & BETAS
What do you mean I wasn’t amazing the first time?! The bitter truth is, everybody is awkward the first time writing. Everybody. Your mom, George R.R. Martin, everybody. Writing is as much a creative act as it is one of ego. Hey, hey! No judgement here. This is a judgement-free zone. However, I am pointing out a cold hard truth: your first time around is going to be terrible.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott eloquently puts it this way, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything- down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
And if an older, more mature woman insists on it, you better do as you’re told and be grateful for it. As the old axiom says, Write first, edit later. So write first. You can’t edit what’s not there. You can’t publish what’s not there. You can’t claim that sexy sexy title of Author if your literary aspirations remain a passing daydream or a series of random social media declarations.
In a quick aside, I’d also like to point out how, technically speaking, there are three general types of writers (yes, but you’re a special snowflake…). There’s pantsers – those, like yours truly, who improvise as they go along, letting antics lead where they will until the story concludes itself. Next, there’s plotters – those who tediously outline their story first before getting down to it. And, of course, because we can’t just have things so easy as two options anymore, there’s the writer-fluids. Those who ascribe to a bit of both pantsing and plotting. You’re somewhere in there. It’s perfectly ok to do your own thing – in fact, try to embrace your own thing as much as possible. That’s because, in the end, people want to read your stuff… not a mimic of someone else.
Editing, like writing, is a tool that takes practice, skill, and merciless precision. It can be like a sledgehammer sometimes, and at others like a scalpel. Whichever end of the toy you’re using, an excellent place to begin with is a free editing app called Grammarly (And again, no, I didn’t receive payments for endorsements here… but I’m always willing to work for my money). Install it right into your computer and run your manuscript through it. Even in the free version, it’ll catch little details you’re sure to miss, even if you’re finally putting that fancy English degree to work.
Here’s another stone-cold writing truth for you: We all miss mistakes. Everyone. So especially if you’re considering indie publishing from the start, please please, for the love of God, get someone else (not your best friend or your mom) to edit your book before publishing. It’s far better to have an editor catch mistakes and provide suggested improvements then for some shnarky good-for-nothing reviewer to give it to you after it’s too late (looking at you, Gorlock-the-Martian).
Finally, an excellent way to keep your editing abilities sharp is to read. Read well. Read widely. Read in and out of your chosen genres. Pay attention to how other writers craft their art (And yes, we are most definitely in the realm of Art here). By reading on a regular basis, you expose yourself to other writing styles. You learn it’s ok to end a sentence every now and again with a preposition lying around. Learn the rules so you can break ‘em with style. Learn how to appreciate voice and pacing, you when your turn comes to show off your own unique stamina, you’ll be ready, willing, and (most importantly) able. Learn why you prefer certain authors over others. Realize why certain scenes move you. Pick up and adapt new techniques for your own sultry purposes (it’s ok, we all steal writerly things from each other, you know).
In summary, after you finish your first draft, give yourself at least a few weeks breathing room. You and your story have been hitting it hard for about three – four months now and you could both probably stand for a little alone time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You’ve just poured yourself into your work, now let it linger. Go out and celebrate your accomplishment! You’re entitled to a little bit of bragging now – not many people even get their first drafts written. Good freaking job! Seriously! After a few weeks, pop that Word document back open and read through it with Grammarly on. Ignore the pessimistic voice in your head.
Breathe, edit, repeat.
Then let someone else watch your child.
Babies & Betas
LET SOMEONE ELSE WATCH MY CHILD? WHAT ARE YOU, NUTS?!
Why yes. Yes I am. I mean, honestly, who isn’t in this day and age? Yes, at this point you need to be able to cut the umbilical cord and hand your darling baby story off to the cold meticulous hands of other writing professionals. It’s scary. You’ll only want to hear good things back. You’ll probably play deaf or feel outraged by any other types of literary criticism. But here’s the thing: nobody gets anywhere in the writing world with a glass jaw – and you don’t want to, either. I’m not saying you need to just sit there and take it; however, you need to find, oh, I’d say at least three people to beta read for you now. Any less and your story wont get the down and dirty it needs – but not too many either, or you risk both it and your self-respect. Think about people you might know (see, here’s where joining a writers guild will help you) who know their way around a sentence. Who do you know that are familiar with how stories work on a technical level. I’m talking plot, pacing, character continuity… fancy writer mumbo-jumbo like that (And yes, yours truly would be happy to beta read and critique for you – just message me on social media or contact me). Email them an editable copy and give them/me some time.
Another excellent online resource I’ve found is Scribophile. There, you essentially review other people’s darling baby stories in exchange for reviews of your own. It’s excellent for quick feedback from a grab-bag variety of other writers. The only caution I’d cast into the wind is that you might not always get feedback from professionals. Basically, it’s another tool, like Grammarly. It wont solve all your problems, but for doing light initial work, taken with a grain of salt or two, it’s the bee’s knees.
To wrap this one up, I’d urge you to do this editing and beta-reading process at least three or so times. Pay particular attention to repeating issues your betas will inevitably bring to your attention. Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns. Also be humble enough to realize your baby might actually be… you know… ugly. – It’s all part of maturing your story (and yourself as a writer).
Next time, we’ll tackle how to go on Oprah and pretend to be humble about how you’re on the New York Times' Best Seller list (again).
We’re going over editing. Again. Because seriously, you need to edit your story. Polish it all night long until it’s ready. Then we’ll talk how to find what you need: an editor. Every writer needs at least one. No, your betas can’t tag-in for one. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, they can cost money. Do you want this done right or not? (That’s a serious question. However, deep down, I think we both know you’re willing to do what it takes. Don’t worry! Together, we’ll make sure you get off right). Miss the last Ch? Gotcha covered HERE