Editing—Yikes, this is harder than it sounds
From beginning to end, I think I wrote my first draft of my first novel in about six months. This was while I work a full-time job and have two kids who need time and attention as well. My wife works even more than I do, so I’m generally in charge of laundry, cleaning and shopping and a good chunk of the cooking.
I’m not trying to be boastful about writing quickly. Part of the reason it went fairly quickly is that I literally type fast. I’m not kidding—I almost type faster than I think. Including law school, I went to roughly 20 years of formal education. My typing class in 9th grade has been, unquestionably, the most important class I ever took. I understand it’s not required in many states, which I find baffling in our modern society. The writing and the typing went fast, but not the editing.
The editing went on for probably another 12-16months. I showed it to my wife first. I honestly don’t think she wanted to be critical. I think she just wanted to be supportive and say what she liked and also mentioned a few things that needed to be developed. I made some revisions and then I showed it to a co-worker; Matt. It’s a daunting feeling when you hand your first novel to somebody and ask them what they think. I wonder how many people have written a novel and never shown it to anyone. I’m sure it’s a substantial number. It represents time, effort and on many levels a lot of pieces of you.
Of course, a writer thinks their work is great, but you don’t really know. Matt took it home and read it carefully and then gave me some really useful insight and was much less concerned about simply being supportive. In other words, he offered some compliments but mostly said how so much of it was off. Not focused…meandering. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but it was all sincere and he had thought it through. He spent real time evaluating it. I’m not sure I ever would have finished without his thoughts. I again revised the text and it started to come into focus.
I had a couple other co-workers who read the next version; Deb gave nice comments but was upset with one character’s decision in the book. Really upset. I saw her point, but I was happy that she got so passionate about any of the characters. Samuel also read it. He gave me my first real review, 3 out of 5 stars. To be fair, he claims to read a lot and feels that almost no books deserve 5 stars. 4 is typically his best. I’m not sure where he shares all this book reviewing, but I could live with 3 stars for a first effort. He also told me about the fact that there are professional book editors who can be hired. I knew that people edited books, but I assumed it was only publishing houses that employed them. I had no idea they were available for a self-published book, which I assumed my book would be.
I got in touch with one of these editors that Samuel knew; Elena Fultz. We met and she asked me a really insightful question; “What do you want to do with this book?” I had started formulating my approach for the future of the book—I was going to use it solely as a fundraiser, benefiting the non-profit I work for; HOME Line. My goal was to sell as many copies as possible. I had no interest in writing the “Great American Novel,” whatever that is. I personally don’t read classic literature with my spare time. I didn’t want to write a ‘classic.’ I wanted to write something entertaining and contemporary; something that was fiction, but realistic enough to be possible.
With that, I sent Elena my latest draft. She replied within a month with what she termed a “creative edit.” She wasn’t looking to solve punctuation or tenses. It was a big picture analysis. This led to several rounds of editing together and she helped me find a lot of the footing I was looking for throughout the book. I take full credit for all of the ideas in the book, but Elena was critical in making the book more … digestible.
Last, my sister, Michelle, also had a go at the book. She is a teacher in North Carolina and has a keen eye for grammar. Apparently, I’m not the most accurate wielder of the comma. She helped make sure the book looked like it does.
I’ve gotten some early comments from people since the book was released a week ago. One of the early commenters wrote my a nice note mentioning how much she appreciated the editing. Apparently, there’s a lot of work out there that is unedited. I have no doubt that there may be a spelling error or two and perhaps some grammatical issues–but it wasn’t for lack of looking!