The Value of Clocking In Time and Words
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
I'm currently editing a book I wrote six years ago. It's actually the first time in ALL those six years that I've given the book more than a passing glance.
As much as I love the book, to be honest, I dreaded having to revisit it. It's a manuscript that took TONS of research. I spent weeks reading biographies, time period books, and piecing together hordes of information on the middle ages.
And now after writing at least ten other books since then and doing research on a plethora of other eras, the details I'd once absorbed and knew so intimately about the middle ages are no longer prominent. So not only do I need to edit my book, but I also need to refresh myself on all the research I'd done long ago.
As a side note, this is a book that my current publisher declined to publish because the subject matter and setting don't fit with their market or needs. Nothing was done with the book for many years even though I was anxious to pursue other options. But now that I have a new agent, we're moving forward and garnering some initial interest in the book.
I was really pleased that my new agent read the book and sent me a detailed letter expounding on some changes she thought it needed before sending out a proposal. She didn't mince any words, which I appreciated. Nevertheless, I knew once I delved in, I was going to find even more changes to make.
After finally gathering the courage to peel back the pages of the manuscript, I read it and brutally marked it up. Through the whole process, I learned several lessons.
1. After so many years away, I could see my work as though I was a stranger to it. I could read it completely objectively, almost as if I were reading the work of a critique partner, (except I could be truly honest without hurting anyone's feelings!).
I felt as though I was finally standing above my book looking down on it. I could see all of the problems with a clarity that I couldn't when I was living between the pages after I'd first written it. I could pick out the weaknesses in my earlier style: lack of setting details, lack of depth of character emotions, unlikeable characters, indistinct cardboard minor characters, and other issues.
2. I realized that I'd learned a lot about how to edit over the past six years. After working with professional editors with my current publisher on numerous books and after partnering with many different critique partners, I've learned how to spot things that wouldn't have been on my radar if not for having learned from those more experienced than myself.
3. Most importantly, I learned that after writing so many additional books, I'd matured as a writer. After gaining the writing experience, I can finally see how far I've come, how I've honed my voice, how I've gained confidence in my writing abilities.
Six years ago I thought I was mature already. I'd studied lots of writing craft books. I'd written a number of "practice" books. I'd worked hard at consciously improving my writing. In fact this book underwent numerous edits (including a paid edit). It even finaled in a national contest for unpublished writers.
It was solid. And at the time, it was my very best. I'd done the absolute best for where I was at. No matter how many more times I would have edited it, I just wasn't capable of doing any better.
All the clocking in of time and words has changed my writing in a way that editing alone never could.
After six years, I can finally begin to see the difference between then and now. I hope in another six years I'll see even more maturity.
My advice: Don't get stuck editing a book to death. Move on to writing new books. Keep learning about the craft of writing. And allow time and lots of writing to mature you.
What about you? Have you pulled out old manuscripts and been able to spot mistakes? In hindsight have you seen your growth?
I have a book I hope to pull out in six or so years and make better. I did the best I could, couldn't sell it, now I'm well into my next book. I still love the book and hope that maybe someday I'll come back and my greater wisdom will be able to make it something others can love. This post gave me hope that it can happen.ReplyDelete
Yes, it can definitely happen! It will take some hard work (as I'm learning with mine!) But with enough effort and work, we can rewrite and edit and bring them up to par. Wishing you all the best!Delete
I absolutely see growth in my writing! Even from the beginning of one book to the end. Once I finish a book I go back to read it from the beginning and see how much I've grown just from the time it took to go through one book. So I can't imagine what it's like to write ten books or more and see the growth. Growth definitely comes from experience and you can only get experience by DOING IT. Not talking about writing, not dreaming about writing, but WRITING. Day after day after day. I have finally gotten into a solid writing routine and the results are amazing. I've even increased my weekly work count goal because I've seen I can do more than I ever expected!ReplyDelete
That's wonderful to hear that you're seeing such growth in your writing, Shelly! Just doing the writing is exactly what we need day after day. I've seen the same thing happen to me too. My muscles are stronger and thus I'm able to write more each week. It's amazing how that happens, isn't it? :-)
I think it's good that you held on to that manuscript; like you said, it's good to take time away from it, especially because you can take what you've learned from writing other stories and apply it to this one.ReplyDelete
Yes, I never lost hope with the manuscript. I believed in the story and knew it was solid to a point. But now I need to improve it and get it up to par for where I'm currently at! No easy, but certainly worth it! :-)Delete
I plan to go back to a manuscript here that I wrote before the last 6 books. I'm still pre-published, but I've learned a lot and I think this book can work. I've learned a lot since I wrote it and I'm hoping to help it find a place in publication.ReplyDelete
I'm sure once you crack open your book, you'll be amazed at how much you've grown! None of the hard work will go to waste! Wishing all the best as you edit!
Jody, I've read all of your published books, and all of them are amazing. I can definitely see how your writing has changed from Preacher's Bride to Rebellious Heart. Thanks for the great reminder to keep writing!ReplyDelete
Aw thank you! I don't go back and read my books once they're published, because I know I'll spot too many mistakes. I'm sure we're always going to see mistakes and things to change in our books no matter how many we publish. It's just the nature of being a writer, don't you think?
The more I grow and learn, the more I learn how much more I have to grow. I agree, we need to keep writing, taking feedback, and yes, keep writing some more.ReplyDelete
Just in the less than two years I have dedicated to writing, I have seen HUGE growth. I still have a long ways to go. I am a firm believer that "Practice does NOT make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." I am in a spot right now that I need a mentor and venues to learn from.ReplyDelete
Every time I re-read a manuscript I see something that I know should be rewritten. It makes me realize growth is a constant thing and I'm never going to be satisfied with what I write. That aspect of writing is frustrating! It's a good thing I still love doing it anyway.ReplyDelete
Yes. Yes! I just pulled out a manuscript I was working on earlier this year when I became ill. Then after 4 months of writing nothing, I worked hard to rewrite and publish a book I had been working on for the past 4 years. Now that it's finished (other than marketing), I've turned my attention to the "practice novel" I set aside. It's amazing and encouraging to see the growth. And I know there is so much more to come. But thank you for saying we should stop at a certain point after giving it our best and move on. I appreciate that. It's so helpful and confirming of what I was feeling.ReplyDelete
I loved going through your writing journey with you! This post was a work within itself: a writer looking to edit and publish their work, been awhile since they looked at it and so there is your first conflict, whilst pouring over the work the writer realizes just how far they've floated out from the shore! haha great post!ReplyDelete
Flannery O'connor was said to revise and revise and revise each of her works, even her shortest of stories. In fact, her short story "Geranium" was rewrote and published under four different names!