I’m a trained non fiction editor and journalist. I’m also a self-taught poet with two poetry books to my name. I enjoy locating problems with non fiction pieces and love seeing the fruits of good editing.
Non fiction writing and editing are relatively straight forward. They’re all about reality and research. You don’t have to remember made up characters nor look for creative ways to make things happen. In non fiction, things have already happened (most of the time). Your focus is on conveying your knowledge in the most interesting and factual way. Poetry and short story manuscripts are fine too. They’re relatively short and sweet (in the context of editing). You begin to see results relatively fast which encourages you to press on.
Fiction writing and editing though… That’s a whole ‘nother story…
The first draft of my novel is done. I’m thrilled about that, but first drafts are soooo imperfect. In my experience, most of the work happens between the first and the final draft of a book. Here are three things that helped me so far…
Planning My Novel (A Rough Outline)
I’m a pantser – not a plotter. Meaning: I let the story lead the way and allow characters to show me who they are and where they want to go. I figure stuff out as I go along. That’s just my natural inclination which is fine. With that said, I’m discovering that it is beneficial to plan my novel, even if it’s just a rough outline…
The average novel wordcount falls between 60.000 – 90.000 words. That’s a lot of words. It’s easy to lose the plot (literally and figuratively speaking). Again, collections of poems and/or short stories are different in that respect. Individual poems/stories should be connected thematically somehow. However, you don’t have to remember details of poem number two or story number three to nail the ones in the middle of your collection. Poems and short stories are standalones. Chapters of your novel – not so. They’re interdependent. You need to remember what your characters have gone through at the beginning of your book to be able to take them all the way through… to the end.
Ultimately, every project is about crossing that finish line. For an aspiring novelist, that line is the final draft of their novel. It’s about getting there a little faster. Writers are re-writers. Editing, re-writing, revising, re-writing, editing and revising some more are unavoidable… But, a plan can save one a few rounds of hovering over their manuscript. As they say, who fails to plan plans to fail.
Asking for Feedback
Novel writing is a new territory for me. I’m sure it will become easier if/as I continue to write fiction… However, to make this process a little smoother (now) I ask for feedback, every now and again.
You have to Be Careful Whom You Ask Though. Not everyone’s qualified nor responsible enough to speak into your story. The person/s should be competent and able to provide their observations in a constructive way. But then, there’s also the right and the wrong way to receive feedback. Be open-minded. Don’t be afraid of critical evaluation. Embrace what resonates with you.
The “critic” whose advice resonated with me the most is a former journalist/newspaper editor. Her honest feedback helped me acknowledge that I started my novel in the wrong place. I’m using the word ‘acknowledge’ because I kind of sort of knew that my beginning could be problematic. My main characters’ conflict was too intense, introduced too soon, etc. I think I might have been secretly hoping to get away with it… A competent, well-meaning critic will not allow you to get away with things. They’ll tell you how it is… So… Reiterating… Good feedback, however heart-breaking it may be, is your friend. Welcome it and… Start Your Novel in the Right Place.
As you may already know, I went back to the drawing board. And now, my opening is sooo much better. So much so that English teacher and bestselling author Desiri Okobia asked if she could use my first page for year 11’s creative writing lessons… Whaaaat? It’s a big deal – especially that this is my very first opening to my very first novel… I know I’ve digressed a little, but novel writing is a quest, so it’s important to Celebrate Small Victories…
Letting IT Rest
Another thing that has always worked for me, with poetry and now with my novel manuscript too, is letting it rest for some time. If you’re working to a tight deadline, that may not be possible. However, if you can, leave your first draft alone for a month or even longer… Don’t edit, don’t re-write, don’t even re-read it. Distance yourself from your AAAMAZING story and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Bear in mind, once your emotions subside, the story might seem a little less aaamazing. It is a good thing though because now you’re able to see what needs to be changed… The opposite of that might be true too. You might come back to your manuscript and find that it’s good enough (first drafts never are though).
I know… Letting it rest might be annoying when you just want to get on with it,
or… like me… you’ve told the world,
“Hey! I’m writing a novel!”
And now, the world keeps asking,
“Hey! So, when’s the novel coming out then?”
Sometimes, “soon” is all there is to say… Personally, I prefer to take my time and produce an excellent piece of writing rather than produce something mediocre quickly…
There’s so much more to be said about this novel writing process, but I’ll end here for now. If you have just began or you’re thinking about writing a novel, I hope this is helpful…
Let’s write this novel, shall we? Yes, we shall! 😉
Please SUBSCRIBE HERE to receive the first chapter of my novel… soon.:)