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Editing Part 1: Feedback

You're not quite finished.

I think I'll need a cup of tea.

I remember Nancy Conescu (editor of Unpacking Harper Holt) telling me the story wasn't quite finished - it needed a couple of more chapters; as if it's that simple to just add more chapters!

I know I've mentioned feedback before, but this post is a closer look at how I've come to value feedback not only because it makes my writing better, but it's also when the solo act of writing becomes a team effort - one that I rely on and enjoy.

If you have read my earlier posts you may remember that when I finished the first draft of Unpacking Harper Holt I thought it was done. A few friends had read it and liked it, I'd done a spell check (ha!), it was ready for a cover and to be sent out to every bookshop in the land!

My first conversation with Nancy, as I recall it, was about the characters and the emotions and a bit about the process of what happens next - (just put a cover on it!). But then Nancy told me it wasn't quite finished - there were a few loose ends that needed to be tied up for the reader.

But I'd finished it! I had typed that last sentence, the last full stop, and given myself a huge pat on the back. (I said all of that to myself, of course)

Apparently not.

Following Nancy's advice, I reread the last few existing chapters and the outline of her thoughts on the story, and yes, she was right; there were a few things still to be wrapped up.

I had no idea what to write in the next few chapters - because in my mind the story had finished and the reality was that it was Harper who had driven the story, I just wrote it.

Over the next couple of days I went for long dog walks, and reread the entire manuscript. I didn't make notes, I just read.

Early one morning (I'm pretty sure it was a Saturday because I remember I had plenty of time) I sat down to write and one of the characters had an idea.

There was more to write; Harper wasn't quite settled.

This type of feedback, the structure of the manuscript, is now the first thing that I focus on. What I learnt with Harper, I've built on with everything else I've been writing. No longer am I locked in that chapter two must always be chapter two, or that this incident has to happen before that one.

In fact, the benefits of being open to restructuring became so obvious, when Nancy suggested that Chapter 1 had to go - all of it - I remember taking a deep breath and agreeing. (I did keep a few lines from it - especially the very first line of that original chapter, I was emotionally attached to it. It's now in Chapter 2.)

There is another reason that this part of the structuring process is so important - this is when I have to address the point of view I'm using. Because my first draft is a blurt, there are parts when I'm just working out who the characters are; the POV jumps from one character's head to another. Often these parts can, and do, go.

When I get feedback from someone, be it a friend, @flyingpantsediting or my current editor,for Everything We Keep, that something doesn't quite work, something needs to be added, or there's at least another chapter to go, I just have to take a dog for a walk, reread the parts (or all of it) and let the characters continue on.

I give the first drafts of a manuscript to young readers, who are in the target audience. The first draft of Everything We Keep was given to an ex-student of mine, who is now well into secondary school.

After reading it she said she wanted to know more about the main character, the house she grew up in. That one comment led to the addition of a prologue and more description. In a conversation, over a year later, with the editor when we first started the editing process,it was suggested that it wasn't quite finished. (Again!)

Dog walks, cups of tea and a reread to see if anything would become obvious. And there is was - take the prologue and book end it - wrap things up with the epilogue.

My point is, without those two comments, about needing more at the beginning, and more at the end, the story would not have been complete.

Before I get down to the editing of paragraphs, sentences, adding description, changing overused words and other feedback focusing on smaller details, this is my first stop - does it make sense and is it finished? And the answers to both of those questions comes from someone else.

Sharing your writing can be scary at first, but trust me, you'll find it really beneficial. My advice is to ask whoever is reading it to answer those questions - get the structure right and you are well on your way!



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