Thursday, August 14, 2014

Writing a Novel (Part 4): Breaks Are Your BFF

You can start Part 1 of the Writing a Novel series here.

So you got writing, overcame writer's block, and reached the end of the race. You're now holding a completed novel in your hands.

You've just achieved one of the biggest, most insurmountable-looking steps to writing a novel: actually writing a novel!

This is no small feat. Do a happy dance, have some [insert favorite food here], and take a break. That's right: take a break from your book.

There is a natural cycle of rest and work built into us. We need weekends and lunch breaks and five minutes during the day to check Twitter. Without breaks, we become less productive. Rest is absolutely vital to working effectively and living healthily. I've written about this at length.

You may not feel tired. You may be full of ideas for how to better your now-finished product. Ideas are like wine: they get better with age. If you take a break, those ideas will grow and get better. You'll also have better perspective when you come back. You have in your head a dream of the book, but it might not match up with what's on paper. Giving yourself a break helps the idea in your head grow fuzzy; when you come back, you'll see where dream and what's on paper don't match.

I took 2 weeks. Next time I'll take 6. I know an author who writes one book, then writes another, then edits the first, then edits the second, and so on. This way there's always something in between for him to do, and he has ~6 months between the writing and the editing of any single book.

When you finally dive in to editing, start with a read-through. Only typo corrections are allowed. Go as fast as possible so you can see the work as a whole. With that big picture in mind, you go back and embark on edits.

Start with big stuff. Fix your plot before you fix your themes, and fix themes before you fix your word choices. If you can. I couldn't help myself and fixed sentence-level stuff as I edited scene flow and character development. A lot of those scenes are now deleted or completely rewritten, meaning I wasted my time. But hey, it's how my brain works. Oh well.

For macro-edits, as we call them, I suggest writing an x-ray of the novel. We covered x-rays in Part 2; it's a scene-by-scene breakdown of the novel. It's much easier to edit 12 pages than 312 pages. Using my xray, I had an overall picture for moving scenes around and seeing what needed to be added, removed, slimmed, or plumped. This made the single biggest difference in the quality of my storyline.

Next, move through line edits. This is the sentence-level stuff (passive vs. active voice, weak verbs, over-used words). When you line-edit yourself, read the sentences aloud. You can hear where they sound awkward. You can get help here from people who are avid readers. Ask if any loved one is willing to take a red pen to your word choices.

Also utilize these resources:

#1- Conferences and workshops. Take a dozen red pens and prepare to rip your work apart under the direction of experts for a weekend. Sometimes you can find cheap, shorter workshops in your area. This will seriously pay you back in the long run.

#2- Critique groups. Writer friends are the best people to tell you what's working and what's not, because they can tell you why. They know the writing process intimately and care about the quality of the work as much as you do. Furthermore, editing their work will help make yours stronger.

#3- Beta readers. After you've sent the book to your mom, it's time to get the opinions of less biased readers. This isn't about a detailed breakdown of your plot points or grammatical errors. Readers are there to give you general audience opinion. Did they like it? Why?

As you edit, remember one thing: you may have to take out the best part to make your book the best it can be. That's the hardest pill to swallow. That beloved plot device, or sentence, or character, or may have to go. Put it in a file and save it; it might turn into another book, or a short story, or maybe you'll find a place to add it back in.

Killing your darlings means loving your novel. You can do it. You love this book better than anyone.

I recommend following the Writer's In The Storm Blog. I get their posts emailed to me each week, full of great advice from motivating yourself to how to write good description to what makes a good romance. There are lots of good writer blogs out there, but this one is the best for specifics. Their help will be invaluable in editing your manuscript.

Good luck, writer! You can do this! You've already finished a whole novel, after all.

Next up: omg, queries! How do I get agents to like me???

Word count: 836.