|Elaine L. Orr is the author of|
the Jolie Gentil and River’s Edge
cozy mystery series. She also writes
books and blogs about writing and
publishing. Her blog is
To write his stories, my father sat at a typewriter for hours. He created happy families and strong Western heroes. Unfortunately, they all spoke with perfect diction and the happy endings were syrupy, so he never sold any stories or novels.
He enjoyed it, and his efforts showed that writing was worth my aspiration. He also went through his typewritten text with a pencil in hand and then retyped every word. Sometimes two or three times. On a manual typewriter.
When I began writing (imperfect) plays and screenplays on a Kay Pro 10 computer thirty years ago, I knew it was hard work. Fortunately, I wrote, edited, and made changes without retyping an entire manuscript.
I’m not sure I would have had my father’s persistence if I had to use a typewriter. However, by the time I began self-publishing my mysteries I had taken a number of writing courses and revised the first two books of the Jolie Gentil series (written largely in tandem) many times. It was a different kind of persistence.
Besides the ease of rewriting, today’s authors don’t need a publisher’s blessing to put work in front of the public. You can start a blog (mine is Irish Roots Author) or submit to an expanding number of online and print short story markets. Sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press make it fairly easy to publish a book.
But should you?
Finishing a piece of fiction or nonfiction is a big accomplishment. Take time to be proud. Also understand that your product is likely the first of many drafts, and don’t take the compliments of family and friends too seriously.
After you make a back-up electronic copy and email it to yourself, here are common next steps good writers take.
1) Put your book/story on the top shelf of a closet or bottom file cabinet drawer and don’t look at it for at least two weeks.
2) Start another project.
You did these two things to put distance between you and the novel. It’s the best way to be your own cold reader when you go back to the draft.
3) During your hiatus, read an article or book on editing your own work. I recommend Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Browne and King) or Stein on Writing (Sol Stein).
4) Reread the draft. Try to pay attention only to the story. If you have to circle a typo or awkward phrase, do it and keep moving. Take notes on things such as whether each scene moves the plot forward, characters behave consistently (or don’t if that’s on purpose), and the point of view is clear and consistent.
5) Develop the list of essential changes. Do not shy away from major revision because you wanted to be done or are not sure exactly what to do.
6) Don’t be discouraged, just start the rewrite.
7) The second draft could be ready for comments from other writers, a book editor you hire, or a local librarian or English teacher who owes you a favor or is simply generous.
8) When you are happy with the content, hire a copyeditor. It’s not good enough to rely on friends.
If you are tempted to say you’d rather put the book ‘out there’ and let readers decide its worth, remember this point. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Strong writing is the result of accepting criticism with an open mind and applying fixes you think are helpful. Note the last phrase. It is your book. Ultimately, it’s the readers and reviewers who give it a thumbs up or down.
Each book is its author’s learning experience. May your lessons be rewarding.