As with any trade, the more you work at it, the better you become – and it’s the same with writing.
Looking back now, I can see how clumsy and amateur some of the prose from my earlier work actually was. A part of me wishes I could go back and tighten up some of this – especially my first book, Pearl’s Hereafter – but I have neither the time nor the patience and want to focus on what I’m writing at the moment.
It’s not so much that I’m embarrassed by my earlier work, as I think that it’s great story-wise, but it’s just the idea that people might have formed judgements about my writing based on its early shoddiness. I’m reassured, however, by the fact that Stephen King dismisses his first two novels as utter crap. All writers – even great ones – began from somewhere.
It takes a while to find your writer’s voice and hone your craft. Like Stephen King, I also feel apprehensive towards my first two books (one of them hasn’t even seen the light of day yet). With my third book though – The Essence of Sunshine – the quality of my prose dramatically improved and I was very pleased with the finished piece. In fact, it is the first project that I haven’t felt the need to go back and fix.
At the moment, I am writing a fantasy, which has yielded my best writing to date. I am excited to share this latest work and want to focus on bringing it into fruition. However, I do think that my earlier books need some TLC, so I am now considering hiring an editor for this purpose. If I can get someone on board to tighten up my earlier works, then I can carry on doing what I truly love and invest all my creative energy into my writing.
It has been two years since I wrote my second book. When it was first finished, I sent it off to literary agents, but it’s kind of been forgotten about since then. Other projects have taken priority and I’ve also been rather preoccupied with life, so my second book has been left sitting on a dusty shelf in cyber space.
This week, however, I felt the urge to revisit this story. Before I knew it, I was re-drafting the first chapter and realised that it is a story worth salvaging. The prose is a little clumsy, as I was still learning my craft when I wrote it, but I am a better writer now and know how I can fix it. With a thorough polish, I know it can sparkle!
Revisiting the book, I no longer feel such a personal attachment to the story and feel as though I can edit it more objectively. My second book draws upon a lot of personal experiences, so I think I was concerned that people might think it was autobiographical; certainly, there were quite a few parallels between my personal circumstances and those of the characters, but a lot has changed over the last few years. I can now look upon this book with completely fresh eyes.
So far, I have really enjoyed polishing the prose and seeing how better it looks afterwards! Now that I have stopped drawing comparisons between what was real and what was fictional, I can see that the story pays homage to the trials and tribulations that many young people face when graduating from university. I know that many young people will be able to relate to this and so I wish to share this story with the world. I do not know how long it will take to edit , but I have committed myself to this restoration and plan to see it through!
In your heart, you already know what is right for your project.
Trust in your instincts and know when something is just so. If you want to improve something, then ask yourself whether this is out of fear or necessity. Learn to be the judge of your own work and pay no heed to the criticism of others.
Some criticism can be useful, but a lot of it can be discouraging, especially if it comes from people who don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve. You are the person who can envision your project the clearest, so trust in your own criticism and judgement. Unfortunately, a lot of artists are overly critical and beat themselves up too much, but it is through evaluation that we create masterpieces. The trick is to find the right balance and go easier on yourself where credit is due.
Lately, I have surprised myself with my intuitive editing. I just seem to know when something is as it should be or when it needs to be tweaked. I suppose it helps that I tend to whip up pretty good first drafts, but even so… my editing skills have definitely improved! I am currently sorting out my third book and I can say with full confidence that you definitely learn more about the craft as you go along.
What I usually do is read through my manuscript and highlight any bits in red that need fixing later. Other things, like typos and grammatical errors, can be fixed straight away. I very rarely have to do much major restructuring because I plan my stories in advance, so my editing mainly involves tightening up the prose and removing redundant words.
Whatever project you may be working on, remember that it is your creation and you should know what’s best for it. There’s plenty of advice online if you’re unsure what to do or need to brush up on your technique, but you’ll learn a lot with experience. Just keep at it and keep sculpting your project until you sense that it is complete.
Contrary to what most writers say, a first draft CAN be amazing.
I have learned that if you invest the time and effort into producing a quality first draft, then it pays dividends when it comes to the editing stage. I know that a lot of writers advise against taking too long on a first draft, but I believe in getting it right the first time. It saves a lot of hassle later on, especially if you’re not a big fan of editing like moi.
Now that I’m doing my second draft, there’s not much that I have to fix, apart from minor typos and a few plot inconsistencies. But I’m finding it fun because it’s mainly just polishing something that is already edited. Arguably, I was editing as I wrote, because I wouldn’t move on unless a sentence passed a general standard of quality.
Of course, you can’t get everything right the first time. There’ll always be things that need improving, but it doesn’t hurt to try and make life easier for yourself. I understand that a lot of writers just want to get to the finish line (God, do I know), but is it really worth spewing any old crap onto the page? If that method works for you, then that’s great. I just thought I would point out that slow and steady CAN win the race!