Welcome to the second installment of 5 steps for writing preparation. Step one was desire, where I laid out my thoughts on having the desire to write, write often, and hopefully, write well. The second part in our journey has to do with sticking to it: perseverance.
Let’s face facts. If you are anything like me, it takes a fair amount of self-discipline to sit down and start a project, especially if it’s a large project like a novella or a novel. It’s even harder to keep writing, to keep that momentum, because momentum is key. You’ll start seeing that word count go up, and you’ll start thinking, I really can do this.
Novels can be especially difficult because not only do you have to remember what you wrote way back in chapter one, but you have to remember how each character acted, their traits, their dialect, events that happened to them and stops they made along the way in your story. That gets even more difficult if you don’t edit as you go, as I do. Short stories pose their own problems. Most of us don’t hammer out a short story, even a three thousand word one, in one sitting. Shorts are a bit different for me, in that when I sit back down, I need to re-read what I’ve already written. There’s something special about short stories and their flow that needs to stay perfectly consistent throughout the tale. You may not write the short story in one sitting, but most readers will read in one. In a novel, you can correct style variations when you go to edit it. You may have been having a dark day and wrote in a slightly different ominous style, or you might be listening to an especially good audio book and inadvertently take on the narrators tone. I know when I was listening to Lisey’s Story by Stephen King, read by the amazingly talented Mare Winningham, I wanted all my villains to sound just like Scott’s, sometimes insane, father. Be careful, this is easier than it sounds. I had to give my villains their own voice. One I created.
The second part of sticking with a project, and the most difficult for most writers, is the edit. By the time I’m finished with the editing process, I honestly never want to read that novel again. I’m a bit more forgiving with short stories, but novels, nope, the reader can have it. I’m sure editing is different for everyone. Here is the way I do it. I print everything out, find a comfortable place, and a red pen, and start marking. As I finish a page, I flip it over, so I have two stacks. Edited, unedited. I edit until I get tired of editing for that day. Then the next day I repeat until I get through the novel or short story. Then I take everything back to the laptop and start making the changes. Sometimes it’s just an added punctuation mark, sometimes it’s an added or deleted scene. I also recommend reading the story out loud when you edit, at least the first two times through. At least the first two times through? You mean I have to do this again? Yes, when I finish making the initial changes, I print off the story a second time, go back to my quiet place with my trusty red pen, and go through it again. Hopefully, this time, there will be less red ink. Then repeat one more time, just to make sure you have everything as perfect as you can get it.
At this point in the project, I’m ready for someone else to read it. I usually give it to five people I trust with my life. Not only my life but my work. People who will tell you something doesn’t sound right, people who will be honest, and hopefully kind, and who will take their time and do it right. Let them mark up those copies and get them back to you. Some of the suggestions you’ll agree with, some you won’t, but the great part is you’ve just shared your work with your first readers. Get their thoughts on the story, the characters. As much as it’ll hurt, tell them, to be honest. You know you’re good at this. It’s time for other people to hopefully tell you you’re good. Now this last step, some writers swear by and some skip. If you want to pay a professional editor, it’s time to send them your manuscript. When you’ve made any changes based off their input, you should be ready to start sending queries to agents or publishers.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, writing requires quite a lot of perseverance. The most important thing you’ll get out of that perseverance is a finished product you can be proud of.
Next up – Mindset