Monday, 19 August 2013

Candle flames, light bulbs, flash bulbs and flare guns; Editing your novel.

At the end of April, earlier this year, I finished writing my novel. I spent a day walking around in a hypnogogic state where everything seemed very crisp and bright and yet nothing was quite real. Bit of an odd day - I was torn between feeling euphoric that I'd finished The Book and lost; what was I going to do now? What was I supposed to do now? Writers with more experience than me will tell you that this is only the beginning. If I wanted to get anywhere trying to sell my book, then I needed to edit it first.

Great. Good.


I had more than a slight inkling that work needed to be done before I could think about sending it out into the world. I'd read 'Self Editing for Fiction Writers' by Renni Browne and David King - which I highly recommend - but while it answered the question of 'what' to some extent, it didn't show me 'how'.

So I decided I would enroll (or perhaps that should be enlist) in the Writer's Workshop 'Self Edit your novel course.' The course is entirely run online, over six weeks, by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin.

I'd heard good things about the course and by that point the book I was initially so pleased with, now appeared to be an unclimbable white paper mountain. Possibly inhabited by abominable snowmen. Daunting was an understatement. The only problem was I'd missed - by two days - the start of the next course. I was going to have to wait until June to get stuck in.

At this point other writers who've been here, will be sagely nodding their heads. 'Ah yes', you'll think. 'I remember that stage.' For those of you who haven't hit that particular bump in the road yet, here it is; You can have the patience of a saint. Perhaps you never get irritated by other people's idiocy or your own. Perhaps when the washing machine spews grey water all over the floor instead of just spinning your socks, you're the sort of person who sighs and smiles and calmly reaches for a mop. Perhaps you even drive quite happily behind the moron in the car in front who is doing 30 mph in a 50 mph zone. Maybe you're really that patient.

It doesn't matter. The minute you finish writing a book, that patience will evaporate and you will be overcome by a call of the wild type pull to send it out. Now. Yesterday. Go go go go! This is a really bad idea.

 I'd committed to doing the self edit course so reluctantly I shoved my work in progress (WIP) into a drawer and did other things, waiting for June to roll around. I am so glad I did. It was a very intense six weeks. There was so much to absorb. Even now, going back over the course notes, I'm still learning more. I realize now that this isn't a case of learning to edit and then that's it. You start learning and you go from there. There were many such light-bulb moments during the course. 

On the other hand it was ingeniously designed to fit in around your everyday life - no matter where you were in the world. There were a number of people in the same group as me who were in Australia or Portugal, France or Malaysia. Despite hectic lives and different log on times all of us managed with relative ease, to learn and participate in the course. Every week a brief tutorial video and a nice, lengthly explanatory written tutorial was posted, followed by a homework assignment. These were all based around your own WIP (which is why you really need to be at least close to finishing a draft before you do a course.)

Three things came out of this for me;
1) partly because I'd had to wait for the course but definitely due to how the course guided me, I was able to look at my WIP with some perspective. Enough distance to be objective. (This is invaluable because by this time the impatience had worn away to be replaced with the insistent fear that the whole thing was drivel. That's perfectly normal too by the way.)

2) the group as a whole reads and offers comment and critique on each others work. This is something that would have scared the bejesus out of me in the past. Here, as an exercise in learning what works and what doesn't in writing, it was truly eye opening. I had the most amazing group. Everyone was really supportive of each other, everyone really tried to offer sensitive and constructive criticism. Turns out that having someone read what you have written, then tell you what they think, isn't actually that bad at all.

3) You learn the techniques for deconstructing and reconstructing your own prose.  Writing is re-writing. If you were like me and just dashed off an essay at A-level for which you then received an A, never having worried about notes or drafts, then be warned, your first draft won't be your last.

It's a different skill set of course but I think I can honestly say that in terms of knowledge transferal, I learned more in that six weeks than I did in two years of my four year degree course.

The best part; Debi and Emma were fabulous. Literally. Super powered - like something out of a fable. Astute, honest, sensitive, helpful and just generally lovely. In short the course was like joining a family of writers of all genres. I'd been so nervous about doing the course because I was shy about showing my writing to anyone (yes, despite the finished first draft impatience.) There was nothing to worry about.

My writing has not been the same. It never will be. This is a good thing. I can now see where I want to get to in terms of quality, even if I can't yet reach it. I stress the yet. It's built up my confidence and improved my prose beyond anything I expected. It's not often that expectations are far and away exceeded rather than falling short.

So there you are. Have a finished first draft? Not sure what to do? Check out the Self Edit your novel course. You won't regret it. IMO it's ridiculously under priced for what you get out of it. Not that I'm complaining.

Actually, I've been feeling a bit lost since the course finished last month. I'm quite tempted to try sneaking onto the one in October. No one will notice...right?

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