But I did a spell check...
Editing. I had absolutely no idea.
When I finished my first complete manuscript, two thoughts came to mind:
'I did it!' which was quickly followed by 'What do I do now?'
My answer - send it to a publisher, of course! They'll love it!
The real answer - time to edit.
So, I followed my answer and went online to search for publishers who would be just waiting for me to send them my newly finished manuscript.
What I found was some fairly consistent advice - 'only send it in when it's as close to perfect as you can make it.'
What could they possibly mean? I've done a spell check! It's ready.
It wasn't. Not even close.
I am the first to admit that I'm one of the lucky ones. When I sent Harper out to a few different publishers, I didn't have to wait too long before I got a positive response.
Nancy Conescu, then at Walker Books Australia (and before you ask - WBA and I - no relation), could see what Harper was - even though the draft was, at that time, what I think of now as a 'renovator's delight'.
The year it took to go from signed contract to bookshop shelf was a steep learning curve. I learnt about writing, the process of editing - and let me tell you, there's a lot to it.
I have a dedicated group of friends who willingly read whatever I write. They are fabulous for that quick validation that my story is making sense. I am forever grateful when they give up their own time to read my first draft (looking past the wayward commas and typos - of which there are many) and then even more time to give me feedback.
However, working with a professional editor was a whole new experience - one that I have really come to enjoy - because I learn a lot. With Nancy's guidance, I could see how my manuscript improved when I took onboard her feedback, as she showed me how to craft a sentence.
After my experience with Nancy to renovate Harper, I decided last year to find a freelance editor to help me with my other manuscripts - I just needed that professional feedback and guidance. I wanted someone who specialises in children's and middle grade books, and who understands the Australian market, who was new to me, who hadn't read Harper.
I was also in a writing rut - I needed a new perspective, a new burst of energy, and I found that in Lucinda and Emma at Flying Pants Editing (click their logo below to go to their website!) They get it and they get my writing.
Opening their report is like opening a present!
What I get back in a manuscript appraisal is invaluable. Each time I've done it, the report has given me new insight, shown me things I've overlooked, challenged me look at the story and go deeper with it. I've learnt to slow down in this part of the process and really take the time the manuscript deserves.
But let me just take a few steps back.
You're at home... you've finished your first draft...before you send it anywhere, what do you do?
Simple - take a deep breath and read it aloud.
I didn't, with Harper. Nancy asked me to, several times, and I said I would, but I didn't - and she could tell. (She must have been so over asking but she has a mountain of patience) .
Finally, Nancy gently explained to me that if I read it aloud I would find where the sentences don't run smoothly, where the wording needs attention. I needed to think about my manuscript being read to someone.
So I did.
And she was right.
When you read your story aloud you read every word. When you read it in your head, well, your brain skips a few words here and there - you skim the bits you think are already perfect! You miss opportunities to improve your story.
I read everything aloud now - even these posts. I write the draft, leave it for a day or three, come back, read it aloud, and make some changes, there's always changes.
Here is the process that suits me - it may not suit you but if you don't have a process maybe it's a starting point:
Step 1: Read your manuscript aloud.
Trust me - just do it.
Step 2: Be open to making changes.
Be prepared to delete. I have to admit, when I got the first feedback from Nancy, I was taken aback. There were so many suggestions for changes, (I was still under the misguided belief that the first draft was perfect).
In her gentle way, there were comments like: 'I don't think we need this' or 'do we need this?' and 'have a look at these two sentences'. I had no idea that whole paragraphs would go and towards the end, a whole chapter. But there was more to it. Nancy's insight into the characters and the story was the main guiding force - she showed me how to get inside Harper's head and stay there.
I've flipped sentences around, divided, deleted, and moved chapters, added more to the ending, changed the entire ending, added characters, taken out characters, found better words... you understand what I'm saying.
And every time you make changes - read it aloud. Reread the sentence or the paragraph and sometimes reread the whole thing!
Step 3: Get really picky.
By this I mean look out for words you overuse (for me it's the words 'but' and 'so'), words that repeat in the same paragraph, same sentence structure in a row, needing more description, needing less description, punctuation...
When you are doing these smaller but essential changes make sure you... (you know what comes next...) read it aloud.
Step 4: Don't be scared. Get help. Get feedback.
After those three steps, I send it Flying Pants Editing. Finding and getting a freelance editor can take time, and costs money - but both are worth it.
You will have to do your own research to find who is the right fit with you and your writing. Take some time, ask about their process, the costs, how long it will take, follow-up and, if possible, have a conversation.
Step 5: Redo Step 3. When you get feedback - act on it.
Nailing the POV (Point of View) has been my challenge from the beginning. The feedback I get often includes advice on how to tighten this aspect of my writing. I want to know if the story lines aren't quite wrapped up, what gaps need filling, and when I find these things out I change them. After you make these changes then (all together now...) read it aloud.
Step 6: Okay - do it! Do a spell check.
If you've done all of the above you would have found most of it. Remember - spell check won't pick up when form should be from, or off should be of or vice versa. Best way to do this is to go back to Step 1 - Read it aloud.
(Tip- most of the above is done on the computer - but I have to say, I love getting my manuscript printed out, bound , and going through it with a pen in hand, cup of tea, and a couple of ginger nut biscuits. Absolutely love it.)
If you search the internet you will certainly find lots of tips and advice for editing - my post here certainly doesn't cover all of it - but it's what works for me and it might be a starting point for you.
And you can still do a spell check.