The Editor’s Corner – The Rough Draft

As you know, last week we just finished up a section on grief in The Psych Writer Series. So this week I wanted to take a break and head to The Editor’s Corner. After all, we’re writers, not psychologists. (For those of you enjoying TPW, we’ll get back to it soon!)

I have a little online writing group and as a freelance editor, I give writing tips and tricks to the youngsters on how to improve their writing (they are ages 13-20). But I don’t care to be all high-and-mighty. I write, too.

And my rough drafts are hellacious.

Everyone’s are. But I put them up in the group, anyway.

There is a reason that I post my rough drafts for their critique. I want to show them that even an editor who picks apart everything about a novel from start to finish to help them make a better piece of writing also has crappy rough drafts. We all have our quirks and problems in our first draft.

This is why I present them a rough draft, so they can see that.


Because the first time a person gets their manuscript back with line-by-line changes and more “red ink” on it than black, it’s effing discouraging and makes people want to throw their work out the window and into a bonfire.

But I assure them: if you get something back that marked up, it means you have potential. An editor will not waste time on a work if they don’t think it can grow.

So if they or you ever ask me for my professional feedback and you get it, even if some of it’s difficult to take, know that me spending time on your work means something. It means I think it has potential, and that’s the highest compliment an editor can pay to a writer.

In a letter to 19-year-old Arnold Samuelson, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is sh*t. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

This is what an editor helps people do. We don’t function as writers in that moment. What we do is massage the work into a shape that will leave the reader euphoric, devastated, or otherwise moved. They will incorporate your story into the tapestry of their lives.

This is why I share my rough drafts with my group. To show them that the work is always, without exception, in need of more refinement.

So when you share a work with a professional and it’s a rough draft, expect a lot of feedback. A lot of it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or it’s crap. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Happy writing!

I am Anne Hogue-Boucher. I write stuff and then I edit it, and then edit it some more. I also get it edited. If you’d like to read some of my work, pick up a copy of Exit 1042. There’s more on the way. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

The Self-Published Guide to Editing

Last month, I did a guest post for Author’s Publish called Five Free & Cheap Editing Options for your Manuscript. (By the way, if you haven’t signed up for their guides and newsletters, do it. They’re a great resource.)

When you’re going the route of self-publishing, you have to rely on yourself to do everything. These days, that’s not all that different from working with a publishing house.

The main difference is that your publisher will handle editing for you. When you’re on your own, that’s up to you. But even if you don’t have a lot of walking-around money, you can still get decent editing done for your own manuscript.

Take a look at the article, and happy editing!

Too Much or Too Little: Pacing Problems

Janice Hardy, back in 2011, wrote an article on Fiction University about pacing problems and how to fix them, called Move Along: Fixing Pacing Problems. Five years later, it’s still relevant.

If you’re a writer, you know that pacing is important. Personally, my greatest issue I’ve worked hard to overcome is rushing the ending. I have all this tension built up and then SPLAT–the end. Oops!

My coping mechanism is to actually reduce my daily word count by half when I get to the final third of my novel. If I did 3,000 a day, I shoot for 1,500. 2,000? 1,000. You get it. This way, I’m forced to take my time getting to the ending so I can build up the proper tension for the denouement.

No matter what your pacing problem is, Janice has a solution for you. Give it a read–it might help!

I’m a writer and I like to edit people’s work for fun and to feed my pets. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the entertainment value. If you need a work fully edited for a reasonable fee, contact me.

Facepalm Time: Stupid Things Authors Believe, Part 2

So a little while ago, I discussed an article on Authors Publish about the stupid things that authors believe. Well, this concept of our erroneous beliefs is big enough that we need a part two, so Kurt Bubna is happy to illustrate for our eager eyes another fine point in: Stupid Things Authors Believe, Part 2.

Yeah, the need to be published “uncensored.” In other words, publishing your first draft without even having anything other than basic proofreading (and for some, not even that).

For those of you who think that publishing a first draft is fine, I have but one question for you:

Are you out of your fucking mind?

I have to wonder about your level of ego to think that your first draft is untouchable. At least I did at first, but I understand. If you’re a new writer, or haven’t been in the arena for a while, you’re soft. Delicate. Like little frilly panties. It’s not just  your ego that’s keeping you from an editor making your manuscript bleed and cry salty tears. It’s fear.

Fear that you’re not good. Fear that you suck. Fear that you’re just a hack with no original thought. Fear that [fill in the blank]. Yeah, that’s what’s holding you back. You have likely grown attached to your first draft.

Let go. Put away your frilly panties and go commando. You’re gonna chafe. Bring powder.

In the hands of a professional editor, your work can be transformed into something great. A developmental edit will help you with the structure of your novel, places where your characters need improvement so that they feel real, and finding important plot holes. Clarifying your work. Making it into something memorable.

Keep this in mind: Just because it needs work doesn’t mean it’s bad. Keep that in mind. Even Hemingway hated his first drafts, because they sucked. They’re supposed to suck, because all you do in your first draft is get the story out. That’s it.

So yes, your precious baby manuscript needs to be massaged and developed. Let your baby grow and learn to walk on its own. Get an editor.

Now, if you’re self-published, that’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. I’m lucky enough to have a professional in-house, who rips my work apart. If I had feelings, they might get hurt. Luckily I got calluses on those feelings a long time ago. Now I enjoy edits. As you grow in your writing, you may not come to enjoy them, but you’ll appreciate them.

Hang in there. It’ll be okay. Just write, and worry about the edits when the time comes.

I’m Anne Hogue-Boucher, and I approve this message, or words to that effect. I am in no way affiliated with BubbleCow Book Editing. I just like them a lot. Come follow me on Twitter or Facebook and fill your head with the occasional joke and scary story, sometimes combined.


The Rule of Three

A while back, I wrote about editing your drafts so you can submit your most polished work. But sometimes it’s hard to look at your rough draft and make changes. How do you go about making it better?

Making this face doesn’t help.
Image courtesy of MorgueFile.

I commit all my sins during my first draft, which includes TV and film references, telling more than showing, and ambiguity. After that, I have to let it sit for a few weeks while I work on other things, and then go back to make my edits. That’s if I’m working alone. Sometimes, though, I have friends interested in taking a look and making suggestions and edits. That’s when I’m really happy.

But I always like more than one person to look at my work, and have discovered that the magic number is three.

If you have three people interested in reading your work and can trust their feedback, you’re in a lot of luck.

The Rule of Three for editing has become really important to me and it’s helped me improve my writing. Oh, sure, I still commit all my egregious sins in my rough draft (because why not, it’s just a rough draft and my main goal for a rough is to just get the story out of my head an onto the computer), but my final draft is a winner.

When you employ the Rule of Three, try it this way and see if it works for you:

  • Send your rough to your three friends/beta readers/editors. Ask them for their honest feedback.
  • Wait for their advice.
  • If you find something that all three agree on for feedback, change it without question.
  • If only one pipes up about something that should be changed, but you really like it, you might be able to keep it. But if two of them are piping up, you may want to seriously consider revising.
  • If they disagree on certain changes, go with the one you prefer.
  • Don’t be sensitive. Take their critique seriously, but not personally.
I’ve found that taking their advice makes for a better story altogether. 
For example, I had written a passage about a character that was completely irrelevant to the story, but I really liked it and wanted the reader to have the background on his family. All three of my readers told me to take it out, and I refused because I was attached to it. Finally, it went to a publisher who picked it up (the anthology that features the short story is coming out in October), and the editor strongly suggested it be removed. I agreed to the changes.
To be honest, it’s really a much better story with improved pacing since I removed it. Now I’m not so stubborn or attached.
Consider using the Rule of Three for your next manuscript. Remember, it’s all about making your story better.

Writing Your Weakness

A few months ago, I wrote about endings.

Endings are my weakness. Well, they used to be my weakness, till I started focusing on them. Now they’re often much better and stronger than my beginnings. With practice, I’ve managed to evolve a stronger ending with decent pacing, and that doesn’t fall flat (most of the time. No one’s perfect.).

The point of this post isn’t actually about endings, though. It’s about knowing your weaknesses as a writer. Where do you fall short? I know my rough points. I am a teller instead of a shower (which is okay, but can be a weakness at times), and tend towards ambiguity.

In order to defeat these tendencies, I practice, and I ask other people for their opinions.

I like to imagine that this is my reader, right now.

Sometimes, when I write, I try to catch my problems ahead of time, but when it comes to a first draft, it’s going to need help anyway–so just writing it is far more important. You can do this, too. It’s relatively easy, and even easier if you have a thick skin to critique from another person.
  • Step one: Write your first draft. Don’t worry about style. Just get it all out on your laptop, computer, tablet, notebook, loose leaf paper, etc. Just write it all out until you can’t write any more.
  • Step two: If you do have a beta reader or editor, send it off to them and wait for their response. If you don’t, find someone. Preferably someone in the industry or someone who just loves to read.
  • Step three: Take their critique seriously, but don’t take it to heart. That’s the key ingredient to feedback. Understand that YOU do not suck. Your work does not suck (maybe it does but ignore that because who cares–suck is a matter of opinion, anyway). Your work needs work. Everyone’s does! Even Faulkner’s first drafts needed work. So put your ego aside and take it all in as things that will make you better.
  • Step four: Identify your weaknesses. This will help you with your next edit, draft, and even your next first draft.
  • Step five: Keep practicing, and repeat as needed.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Your biggest obstacle in this is you. You are the only one who can put aside your feelings and choose to learn. 
To this day, I enjoy it when someone edits my work. All they do is help me identify where I need to grow, and how I can turn the ideas in my head into something that other people will enjoy.
Don your thick skin and send that first draft to someone who can give you unflinching and honest feedback. Use it to enhance your writing and raise your awareness of your weaknesses so you can turn them into strengths.
I’m a writer and kind of foolish. If you enjoy absurdities and the occasional heartfelt post, follow me on Twitter. I’m also on Facebook.

Editing Your First Draft: A Tale of Terror

I once told you to go edit yourself after a break of about six weeks. So, let’s say those six weeks have passed, and you’re ready to start editing your manuscript.

So, there it is — 60, 70, 100, 200,000 words — all sitting there just staring at you, waiting for those first cuts or elaborations and clarifications. Where do you start?

Most read their own manuscripts through about five times, but I like to go through mine six. It’s not actually to be more thorough or a topper or anything. You’ll see why in a moment.

Step One: Read for enjoyment.

Here’s what I like to do when I start editing anything. I read it for its content. Just a read through as if I were picking up the book for enjoyment. This step is where you set aside all your judgments and just enjoy what you’ve written. Now, if you’re overly critical of yourself, you might find things during your reading that you don’t like, or catch a mistake in continuity, spelling, or grammar. If you can’t let it go, make a quick note of it and set it aside. Then, just keep reading. Read it through to the bitter end, or the happy end, or whatever ending you’ve written.

This is a healthy way to just get through and enjoy your work and what you’ve accomplished, and it will set you up to start gearing into editor’s mode in the next five steps.

Step Two: Read for supplementation.

This is where you need to add in what you forgot to in the first place. Did you describe a scene but find it lacking? Add details — sound, smell, sights — and the explanation of how characters got to be where they were wherever you feel it’s important. Yes, many people will tell you it’s not necessary to add anything to your first draft, but I’ve found that to be simply untrue. But don’t worry, you’ll cut it down later.

Step Three: Read for expurgation and condensation.

It’s later now…your third read should be finding all those ugly spots where there’s just too much exposition. If you lose between 20-25% of your manuscript, that’s fine. It’s expected. I’ve deleted entire chapters without hurting the story. Cut back on anything that’s getting preachy. You don’t want to mess too much with your story’s point.

You may also want to cut back things that got to be too much (too overtly sexual, violent, or factual). Use your best judgment. Did you really mean to have the family dog eat your antagonist’s manky bits? You might want to take it out, or not. Depends on what kind of mood your going for (and especially important in that case if you want your antagonist to have children). Of course, this will also depend on your genre. Erotica, slasher, shlock, and other genres may allow more graphic detail.

Tighten up your writing. Make your sentences pop, kill the verbosity when necessary, and get your point across.

Step Four: Read for content.

Hand-in-hand with expurgation and condensation, you need to do another read through for your content. Did one of your characters get stabbed on page 37 and is absolutely fine without reason on page 38? Did Sally J. mysteriously move from apartment #4 to #8? Oops! Now’s the time to fix it.

Make sure your timeline makes sense, and you don’t have characters meeting before they’re introduced (unless you’re going for a wibbly-wobbly timey wimey thing and totally doing that on purpose), and that your point of view isn’t bouncing around from one character to the other constantly (unless you’re going for that, but make sure it’s handled with skill to avoid confusing your readers).

Here is the ideal time to do your fact-checking. If you’re using anything in your story that is based in fact (for example, recently I needed to know some stuff about guns and helicopters), do your research. Google, watch YouTube videos, and ASK people you know to be experts. Get the information down and make sure your story makes SOME sense. No, you don’t have to be 100% accurate and can take license with certain things to fit your plot and drive it forward, but if you don’t even make the effort to be accurate, it will show, and your work will get called out for it.

Conversely, you can also write too much on the facts and lose the story — so go ahead and cut that back if you haven’t already in step three. Remember, it’s all about the story. Whether you’re character driven or plot driven, your main focus needs to be your story, not how many hours of research you’ve done or how many experts you’ve interviewed. Ultimately, it comes down to the story you’re telling.

That having been said, some people just don’t care and do it anyway — they just write whatever comes into their head, and damn the research. Unfortunately, it can ruin the fun for your audience. In this case, I would put a disclaimer in your author’s notes, preemptively asking for forgiveness. It can help massage the audience into a bit of forgiveness. However, I’m all for maintaining a balance between your facts and your fiction.

Step Five: Read for sentence structure and minutiae.

This read is where you do your real spelling and grammar check. Take out your fine-tooth comb and start scouring your pages for the correct usage of ‘too, to, and two’ and all that. Make sure that everything is consistent, too. Your dialog doesn’t have to be grammatically correct at all, but it needs to be consistent. You don’t want your Harvard Professor Emeritus sounding like a rural Kansas farmer, right? The same goes for your punctuation. If you’re using the Oxford comma, make sure you’re using it consistently throughout your text.

Check to see if you’re using a single word too often, and take those out. “Quickly, Maynard went to the door and quickly opened it. The girl stood still, soaking wet in the rain. He quickly took her inside and wrapped her up in a towel.” Guess which word needs to go? (Hint: it’s NOT Maynard.)

Do a quick review to make sure you didn’t rename a town by accident, and make sure you spell your place names consistently.

Double check your sentences. Seriously. Make sure you’ve gotten rid of clunky sentences or fixed them in such a way that they’re nice and smooth. Get rid of trite crap.

You’ll also want to ensure that your paragraph transitions are slick and easy. Do this now.

Step Six: Read it to an audience.

When all of this is done, go ahead and find a victim…a willing one, please — and read your manuscript aloud. If you don’t have anyone, record it and play it back to yourself as if you were listening to an audio book. This will help you with your previous five steps. You can catch repetitive and/or awkward sentences here, and that’s a huge help for clarity.

Additionally, you’ll also be able to hear dialog better, and see if you can keep track of who’s speaking.

Finally, it’ll help your pacing, and you can go back and fix spots that drag or slow down anything that’s too rushed.

That’s it!

Congratulations, you’ve gone through your first revision. Now, it’s up to you to do further editing, or allow a second set of eyes to edit your work. This can be in the form of an editor or beta reader. It can give you a different, more detached perspective on your work that can help get your manuscript ready for publishing, and an agent or editor will appreciate it.

Okay…what are you still doing here? Get editing already!

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

More About Grammar

During last week’s blog post about grammar, I got some great feedback on Twitter from my friend, @flickguy. It was a quote (sent in a couple of tweets to me) from a NaNoWriMo experience he’d had in 2005:

If your spelling and grammar turns readers off right from the start, your thoughts and ideas are worthless because you’ve failed to communicate them to anyone.

The quote was attributed to Holly Jahangiri, a professional writer and author, and she’s absolutely right. Have you ever picked up a book (typically self-published) and, just a few pages in, got rid of it because the language in it wasn’t reaching you? Much of the time, it isn’t because the writer is using circumlocutory language, but because they never bothered to edit their prose and correct their spelling and grammar mistakes.

Now, there are some really great self-published works out there, actually. Well-written, with excellent spelling and grammar, free of egregious mistakes. I’m not knocking self-publishing. I’m knocking writers who don’t get their work copy edited before publishing because they don’t want to pay for it and couldn’t get their work published traditionally (likely because their query letter was so filled with said egregious errors, but that’s for another blog post).

Basically, what I’m saying is this:


But you can save that for the editing process.

Now, last week, I also said that dialog is a different matter altogether. Because it is. Essentially, don’t forget to listen to how people say the things they say. Ever read V.C. Andrews? This sort of Gothic thriller fiction was great for me, especially when I was a teenager, but one of the things I couldn’t stand was her dialog. Of course, it was purposefully crafted that way, but it was so stiff…so punctilious, it would get on my nerves.

Unless you’re going for that kind of prose and dialog, I would suggest you listen to the way people speak to one another, and work from there. If you have to, read it out loud and hear how it sounds. If it comes across as too stiff, change it up a bit and relax. Unless your speaker is an erudite university professor, you probably want it to come off a tad more unrefined.

Don’t let your hard work get pushed to the side by bad spelling, grammar, or overconscientious dialog. Get it edited, check it yourself, and be proud of the manuscript you’ve built.

Go Edit Yourself

Okay, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to pretend that you’ve finished your manuscript. So, now what? Do you submit it right away for publishing, let someone else take a look at it, or what?

Some of you already have an answer for this. You may have a beta reader or copy editor at the ready. Or, you might know a professional editor for a publishing company who is all too happy to have a look at your work for free and make changes (if so, don’t bother reading further, but I have a feeling not all of you have an awesome editor on hand like that). But if you’re stuck on what to do or the editing process is getting to you, try my method.

I have an idea that this is a common method among successful authors, and it seems to work for me, too (a semi-successful author…I’m getting there, damn it). You may find this works for you.

Put your manuscript away.

Don’t look at it for six weeks to eight weeks. That’s right. DO NOT GO NEAR IT. Treat it as if it’s carrying a plague. Don’t touch, think, or even glance in its direction. Go play. Enjoy your hobbies. Write something else. Work on your other projects. Set a chewing gum record. Anything you can do other than looking at the 50,000+ words you’ve just written.

You need a cooling off period. Why?

Because this manuscript is your baby. You’ve written thousands of words getting your story to just exist. To make sure your characters have their say. To wind up a plot that will, hopefully, make the reader feel something — whether that’s fear, laughter, tears, etc. doesn’t matter — you worked hard to create a piece that’s as engaging as it is -fill in the blank-. Therefore, you need time away from it.

Even if you don’t have a message to tell the world, you have a story to tell, and there are parts of it that might be intensely important to you that just aren’t pertinent to the tale you’re weaving. That’s why you need to give yourself some space.

It will help you be objective for that first cut.

For me, that first revision is the toughest. I used to try to go after it right away, and would almost always find that I didn’t want to cut or add anything. I would insist that it was ‘just fine’ the way it was.

Luckily my partner was able to knock the rose-colored glasses right off my face (metaphorically. She doesn’t hit and I don’t wear rose-colored glasses anyway.). She suggested the ‘cooling off’ period to me after something she remembered that a very successful author said (I can’t recall who it was now, but am fairly sure it was Stephen King).

Giving a manuscript time to cool off so you aren’t as in love with it is important to editing. After I took her suggestion, I found I was far less enamored with certain parts of my work than I was with others, and I found places that needed more details. I was able to cut more out and make better decisions. I had a clearer head.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to know what parts to keep and what to lose, but it’s certainly easier than just barreling through it all willy-nilly.

Two things to do once your writing is done:

  1. Leave it alone for two months…six weeks, minimum.
  2. Go edit yourself…after that period of time. Get it ready for another person to read.
After that, grab your copy editor or beta reader and let them have a turn at it. You might find you’re much more satisfied with the results.