How to Survive The Lifelong Learning Curve

It is a well known fact that writing is a long and slow process.  Writers have to be determined and resilient, as well as innovative and flexible, which is quite a high wire act to pull off over a long period of time.  You would hope that after writing five novels, three radio plays and too many short stories to count, I would have some idea of how to do this, but the high wire still feels a little too high for my liking.

This feeling of being on a constant learning curve has intensified since I changed my approach to the whole issue of publishing.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve decided to publish my YA novel, The Big Deep, as an ebook in a couple of months, and now the teaching year is over this project is in full swing.  My to-do list is longer than ever and the scary part is that every single thing on the list is something I’ve never done before.  Whether it’s designing a book cover, writing the blurb or building a platform (yes, I have a whole new vocabulary too), I am out of my comfort zone and consequently feeling rather vulnerable.

2610290104002(What I like about this diagram is the suggestion that if I don’t improve I’ll have to die, which is always a good incentive, possibly even better than cake)

 

 

So thank goodness for Mrs Editor Lady.  She is also a friend and my go-to person when my insecurities get the better of me.  She isn’t a comfort blanket though.  I trust her judgement because she isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.

A perfect example of this was the lunch meeting we had recently, where she said Sal, you need to do one more read through just to check for mistakes.  Now, we did a final edit a few months ago and I was confident that the manuscript was as good as it could possibly be, so my immediate reaction was Nah, we’ve done that, it’s as good as it can possibly be.  But because she isn’t afraid to tell it like it is and I trust her judgement, I did it anyway.

And guess what?  This final polish which started out as checking for spelling mistakes, glaring grammar howlers and continuity oversights, turned into a full blown edit because about half way through I realised my writing was really irritating me.  This is not a good thing.  If it’s irritating me, it sure as hell will irritate my readers, and I’m pretty sure that isn’t the reaction I’m looking for.

I’ve always known I have writing ticks, those words and phrases that I use repeatedly without even noticing them.  It’s a symptom of lazy writing, going for the most obvious, but what I realised in my read through was that many of these words and phrases were also caused by lack of confidence.  I wasn’t sure the reader would see the scene as I saw it, so I’d better spell it out.  Laziness and insecurity are a dangerous combination.  So I did what I often tell my students to do (and forget to do myself).  I did a cutting edit.  Went through the whole thing (60,000 words), just looking for things I could cut, and what I thought would take a day or two actually took eight days straight with one afternoon off for good behaviour.

And my reward?  The manuscript is now 55,000 words long, the narrative is leaner and cleaner, and the ticks have been well and truly ticked off.  Oh, and I hope I trust my reader to see what they want to see.

This writing business can be isolating, sitting alone and making up stories, but the writer’s life is changing with social media and technology having an ever bigger impact not just on the way we write but also the way we publish and market the finished product.  So having other people we trust involved in this process is crucial.  It gives us an honest perspective, it pushes us to improve, and it makes that long list of challenges slightly more achievable.

So this is a thank you to Mrs Editor Lady.  You’re the best, and in the lifelong learning curve of writing, you help me to be better too.

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