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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

The copy edit

I was very excited yesterday when another heavy, fat brown parcel arrived at my door from Hachette – the latest version of my manuscript with copy editing notes. I immediately opened it to find my manuscript, notes from the editors, and a guide to the copyediting symbols to help me decipher the notes!

Unlike the structural edit, which looked at big picture issues around my plot and characters, the copy edit is a detailed look at the finer points: sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, points of view, and a closer look at the text in terms of consistency.

While it looked incredibly daunting last night when I began to flick through the wad of pages, I can see that many of the hundreds of pencil marks relate to really simple things that I am happy to change. There are a few details to add and more to check, but overall, it’s not a rewrite on the same way as a structural edit and I ho pe to tackle this page by page, paragraph by paragraph.

It’s another stage in the development of a novel, a stage that I am privileged to be at. With each step along the way, I can see the book evolving into the version that will be on the shelves (or virtual shelves for the e-book!) in March 2013.

I’ll also have a new website up soon.

Now I just need my three little ones to sleep so I can start editing!

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This morning, I met with Matt Richell, the Sales & Marketing Director from Hodder and Headline (Hachette) while he was in Perth for a few days. We discussed books and publishing in general, and of course, my novel.

It sometimes feels that Perth is quite isolated form the publishing world, given that most of the major publishers, literary agents, writers’ festivals etc are based on the East Coast of Australia, although I do wonder if that sense of isolation is common to all writers. While I enjoy the solitary nature of writing, I also love to talk about books, and am really excited to be given access to the publishing world, full of people who are as passionate about stories and writing as I am.

Matt did give me one piece of advice (well, he gave me lots of advice but this piece stuck): celebrate each stage of the process. And I do.

When I started writing ‘Fractured’, the idea of it ever being published was something that seemed so distant and unlikely. Now I am actually going through the process of structural edits, copy edits, proofs, cover design…all those things are real and no longer mysterious processes. I still feel incredibly privileged to have a team of professionals working on the book with me and I’m really excited to see what the next few months hold as publication gets closer.

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I’ve been quiet here recently, but I do have some pretty good excuses I think…

A couple of weeks ago I sent back the structural edit of my manuscript to my publishers after a pretty intense month or so of working on it. While the process was all-consuming, I really enjoyed it. It was fantastic to have professional editorial feedback on the big picture of the story and suggestions on how to improve it. It was encouraging to see that most of the comments were around issues that I knew weren’t quite right anyway. There comes a point in writing when you lose objectivity – you know your story so well that it’s hard to step back from it and see how others view it. That was what was so useful about this process, and I hope the manuscript is better for it.

Since then, I have been preparing for the impending birth of my third baby, who is due very soon. So it may be quiet here for a little while longer until I emerge from the fog of life with a newborn…

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I have been quiet on this blog recently, and that is because I have been trying to finish my novel. When I attended the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre manuscript development programme in November last year (see here for my post about this), I was lucky enough to be given feedback on the 2nd draft of my novel by a publisher. A  literary agent and successful author also saw the first 50 pages of my book and gave me some more excellent feedback.

Since that programme, I have  been trying to work through the whole manuscript again to  a level where I feel happy to resubmit it. It has been difficult to find the time,  but in the last couple of months I have written early in the morning, and in the evening in an effort to get this done. It’s not really a chore: I love the time I spend writing, and I love the feeling that each line I edit improves my manuscript.

About ten minutes ago, I wrote ‘The End’ on this third draft. A great feeling, but one that leaves me feeling a bit uneasy and uncomfortable. As a writer, when  do you know when to stop? I feel that I could keep redrafting this again and again ad infinitum, but I also know that I am getting to the point where I am losing objectivity. I know the story so well, and the characters, that I am filling in the blanks that may or may not be on the page. I find it hard to read it as a reader would, because I know what I’m trying to say.

I am also impatient. I started this book almost two years ago, when my first child was a few months old: she is two next week. I want to put it out there, to take the risk and hope that I can secure an agent and publisher for it. But I know as a writer that it’s important to wait, to put it away for a while, then look again. To resist firing off an email, attaching the document and pressing ‘send’. You don’t get multiple attempts at submitting your manuscript. I want to make the most of this opportunity.

So I will not press ‘send’ yet. I will print it out again, and I will wait a few days and read it again from the beginning. There are 20000 new words in this draft, so I need to read it again and see if they are meant to stay. Then I will send it to two trusted readers and wait for their feedback. And then I will go through it all again, and by July, I will attach the document to an email and I will send it out there.

I would love to hear from other writers and how they knew that it was finally good enough to call ‘finished’…

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I got back yesterday from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program which was held in Brisbane. It was a very intense experience, and one of my fellow retreaters, Rebecca Freeborn, has written a post on her blog about the details.

One of the main highlights of the program for me was the opportunity to have time with publisher Vanessa Radnidge from Hachette Australia, who had read my full manuscript. Getting feedback from someone in the industry was absolutely fantastic. I also had feedback from two other industry professionals who had read the first 50 pages of my manuscript: author Kim Wilkins, and literary agent Benython Oldfield from Zeitgeist Media Group.

One theme that came up for me was that the subject matter of my novel may be too difficult to get published as it is confronting and sad. That’s not to say it’s impossible of course, but it may be a challenge. In one discussion, I was asked to think about potentially changing  my story so that there is a different outcome for one of characters which would make the novel have a happier ending. This is something I’ve thought long and hard about. It would change much of the second half of my novel, which in a selfish way means a lot more work. I also worry that in doing so, I collude with society in avoiding talking about the potential tragedies of mental illness.

However, if it makes my work more palatable to publishers, is it worth it if it allows me to bring up the issues of perinatal mental health issues and start a conversation about them? It has certainly given me something to think about. For now, I will continue editing the first half and backstory of my novel and let my subconscious work through it.

The other highlight for me was meeting six other writers at the same stage of their careers as me, and hearing readings from each of their work. While we are all writing quite different manuscripts, I was amazed by the quality of their work, and was proud to be sitting amongst them. It gave me a real sense of validation as an emerging writer. So thanks to Rebecca, Rebekah, Charlotte, Heather, Alison and Darryl (as well as, of course, Queensland Writers Centre, Hachette, and the individuals who gave up their time to work with us.)

The challenge now is to keep that momentum and inspiration going. I have given myself an absolute deadline of 6 months to have the manuscript redrafted and polished, ready to resubmit. And there’s nothing like a deadline to make me work.

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I am about a third of the way through a detailed, objective and harsh read through of my manuscript. With less than 4 weeks until the Hachette/QWC retreat starts, I really want to not only be very familiar with the draft that I submitted to them, but also have a clear idea of what I think needs to change for my next rewrite. It will be interesting to see whether they agree or if I am on a completely different planet. And believe me, there is a lot that I think needs to change.

As I reached for my rainbow of highlighters, my red and black pens, my notebook and my manuscript, I started to feel what can only be described as despair. The novel as it stands just isn’t working. My plot is confused; my timeline is all wrong with temporal impossibilities; and my characters still need so much work. My old friend self-doubt started to creep into my mind.

Virginia Woolf talked about ‘the angel in the house’ to describe her self doubt that crept onto her shoulder and into her pages, and this is certainly something I can relate to. She was talking more about being a female writer at a time when there were certain expectations of women and their place in the house, and in society, but the concept is a useful one. This is how she dealt with it:

“Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.”

I have no inkpot, so instead I metaphorically threw my red biro at her and told myself to get over it and just keep going with my read through, making notes and allowing my subconscious to fix the problems. And then, all of a sudden, I knew what I must do, and that angel disappeared. My excitement and enthusiasm returned. Sure, I have created a lot more work for myself as I have to move around some major scenes and write a few new ones. But I know that it will make my manuscript better, tighter, and one step closer to the finished novel that I know is hiding in there.

Writing – like parenting – creates a huge range of emotions. In one moment, it can all seem too much, and then in the next, you remember why you make the choice to write, and the satisfaction and joy it brings you. I remind myself that I don’t HAVE to write. I could just put the manuscript away and watch daytime television, or read, or sleep. But most days I can’t wait to have an hour to lose myself in writing, and I know that without it, something would be missing.

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I am on the third draft of my novel manuscript now, and this is the draft that I submitted to the Hachette/QWC program, the version that they will give me feedback on.

When I was writing the first draft, I allowed myself to write in an uninhibited fashion, happily telling myself that the most important thing was to get something down on paper and get to the end of the manuscript. Then, I thought, I can fix it all up later! Easy! Unfortunately it is now ‘later’, and having to fix it is a far bigger job than I anticipated.

For my second draft, I simply tried to rearrange my scenes from the chronological order in which I had written them, to one which made more sense, or increased tension, or somehow made the structure more interesting. I also discarded huge chunks of writing which I had thought at the time were pretty good, but on a second reading were pretty bad. These were things like paragraphs of explanation or details about backstory that really didn’t need to be spelled out for the reader. Now, I thought, I simply have to go through each scene and tidy it up and I’m done!

Hmmm. Not quite. I went through notes from the Year of the Novel course that I did at QWC where Kim Wilkins gave us some excellent editing tips, and I also read Browne & King’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers. It started to look better, but as I read more and more of my manuscript, I saw more and more issues. Because of timing issues and life getting in the way, this was the draft that I submitted to Hachette, and luckily I was still chosen.

I don’t want to change anything from this draft at this point until I get feedback from them, but I am trying to organise myself before then. I have just completed a summary of my scenes as they stand, with characters, viewpoints, settings etc, so at least I have an overview of the manuscript and an easy reference tool to find specific scenes/characters etc. In doing this, though, I have cringed at the amount of errors, continuity issues, typos and underdeveloped aspects that are through this draft. ‘They’ say that you should put your manuscript away for weeks or months before working on the next draft, and I completely agree – I can’t believe that I didn’t pick up on all these issues until now, when looking at it with fresh eyes. I also have two friends reading my manuscript (one writer, one avid reader) for their opinions, and I am making a list of things to do before the retreat which includes items to research (especially for my police and court scenes), nailing my timeline (which at the moment is more like science fiction!), and reading more books like mine to see how to handle backstory and flashbacks. And none of that allows me to touch the manuscript with anything other than a highlighter, red pen and notebook at this stage. Typer no typing! (OK, my 16 month old has been watching too much Dora…)

My hope is that I will then be in a position to take on board everything that I can at the Hachette/QWC retreat and be ready for a major edit in December, just before my second baby arrives in January 2011! I’m exhausted just thinking about it…

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