I am overjoyed to find many people locally who are immersed in the writing community on both a local and national level. In my local networking efforts, I had the pleasure to meet with a professional editor who was willing to let me pick her brain for an hour. I left our conversation feeling happy and better equipped to finish the first draft of my novel with confidence. Naturally, it seemed only right and proper to spread the wealth and share some of the advice I received with all of you. The following are four good take-away points:
Learn to love the dreaded red pen...
1) Your story is not perfect; it needs an outside editor.
This is good news, actually. It means that even the best, most popular writers out there submit drafts to their editors with continuity errors, grammatical errors, and even spelling errors. It is quite daunting to put together hundreds of pages of story and make every single detail match, sound perfect, and basically look like what will ultimately end up on a bookshelf for people to buy. This is why there are editors, after all...they exist to help shape your work into a wonderful final product. Editors are to writers as George Martin was to The Beatles, if you need an analogy. If you don't know who George Martin is, that's okay; you probably don't know the editors of your favorite books, either.
2) Although it won't be perfect, you still need to submit your best work.
Yes, editors expect that there are going to be errors involved in your draft, but your story does need to be good enough to be worth editing. If you cannot tell the difference between "your" and "you're," or if you cannot spell to save your life, then you are going to fill your draft with low-hanging fruit that will distract your editor. The less work you give your editor to do, the easier it is for them to help make your story the best it can be.
3) Be flexible and easy to work with.
Once again, your story isn't perfect. You might have, in the hours, days, and weeks that you spent alone staring at a computer screen writing your story, neglected to realize that you aren't very good at writing dialogue in a Creole accent. Perhaps this needs to be changed in order for your story to work, and your editor is the one who cares enough to point this out. Editors are on the front lines, defending your book from being torn apart after it's published. You will get feedback that hurts and might make you feel angry, but it's best if you move forward as quickly as possible and take their advice. Your editor has seen a ton of books, and they know what makes books successful. If they send you back a copy with a lot of red ink and remarks on how certain items need to change and/or be rewritten, then bask in the joy that you get to keep writing your beloved book! Make it the best it can be!
4) Keep a calendar while you're writing. Plan. Keep track of your characters.
Create a separate calendar for your story. You can avoid common mistakes and continuity errors by simply keeping track of your story as though it has its own life and schedule...because it does. If you write a story that has a scene taking place on Thanksgiving, write that on your calendar so you can avoid making the scene happening "the next day" occur on a Saturday. If you describe your main characters in how they look, keep track of that somewhere so you don't describe them with completely different hair color seventy pages later. Continuity is important. Your story is already fiction, but losing track of your own characters gives the reader a poor impression.
The moral of the story: Work hard, write well, but don't think you're finished until your editor is finished with you. Editors are your friends, and if you get the opportunity to work with one, respect and appreciate the fact that your writing has become good enough for someone else to tell you how to improve it.
Dive in deeper with these links:
The four levels of editing explained: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/04/4-levels-of-editing-explained-which-service-does-your-book-need/
First Drafts: what they should and shouldn't be: http://www.nownovel.com/blog/first-drafts-shouldnt/
Questions? Comments? Want to connect, or just need advice? Feel free to contact me at email@example.com