Monday, February 22, 2016

Guest author Elaine L. Orr: It’s Easier to be a Writer Today

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
Irish RootsAuthor
I didn’t say easier to be a good one. That depends on how hard you are willing to work.

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.


Liane Spicer said...

Welcome, Elaine! Thank you for being our guest on Novel Spaces.

I think you encapsulated it in the observation that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Far too many are rushing to publish what are in fact their rough first drafts.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I've read many books that read like a first draft. I like your suggestion about putting it away and working on something else for a period of time. I do that, though unintentionally as life gets in the way. When I return to the stories I see inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, ridiculous pov changes, you name it. That is a good suggestion.

G. B. Miller said...

I've learn do that many times with stories I'd written over the years. By the time I finished with the 1st draft, it had copies notes written throughout (I would print out the pages as I completed them, so by the time I was ready to work on the 2nd, the 1st step was already completed). Then it would wind up on the on-deck circle for the next few years, until I was ready to tackle final steps required to publish.

Elaine L. Orr said...

I see familiar truths in Liane's Jewel's and G. B. comments. I have written some really awful stuff. I would probably have been so thrilled at completion that I would have "put it out there" if it had been easier 15 years ago. I did do one novel in 2006, and before I redid it as an ebook I did some major revision. I revised it as "Searching for Secrets: Author Preferred Edition." I would not recommend that. But -- here's a laugh -- I mentioned this at a writer's conference in November, and a book review author was there. He then wrote a piece on the revision and how I re-market it. You never know where something will take you. I guess that's why persistence is so important. Definitely the "life got in the way" idea has improved a lot of my work!