By Rachel Sweasey, Rhiza Press
Last week I supplied a list of steps to follow in order to refine your writing to the stage where it can be submitted to a traditional publisher, if that is your intention. This week, I flesh them out a little.
1. Read widelyOkay, so this really has to happen before you start writing. Read heaps of really great writing by successful authors. Work out what they’ve done that makes you sit up and think. Look at how they structure their stories, how they use POV, build characters, paint scenes. How does their writing make you feel? I’ve just finished editing Patricia Weerakoon’s Snowy Summer and I swear I could smell Sri Lankan spices and feel the chill of mountain air on my face. How did she do that? Ask those questions and then practice writing that way.
2. Work out why you’re writing what you’re writingAmerican author Harper Lee only ever wrote one book. It is an international bestseller that has sold more than 40 million copies. To Kill a Mockingbird is written with exquisite skill. Yet why did she never write again? “I only had one thing to say and I’ve said it,” she said.
As a Christian writer, you might believe you are called to write and publish one thing in particular. If that is the case then I believe God will bless you with success if you are true to your calling. However, there’s a big difference between that scenario and being a writer of faith who has a talent and a desire to write. What is the thing you have to say? If there’s one theme on your heart that you keep coming back to, then I’d say that might be it. And once you’ve worked out what you want to write and why you want to write it … start the work of writing.
3. Do some writing training, and then practiceWhatever stage of your writing journey you’re at there are probably some new tools you can add to your pencil case (unless you’re Kate Morton or Ian McEwan :))
There are all kinds of online courses, mountains of books full of tips (take a look at the Books for Writers site, and talks given by authors in bookshops and libraries. Every little piece of training can help you improve your writing. Having heard Margie Lawson speak at last year’s Omega conference, I’d recommend her courses.
Some of the training you’ll find will give you some basic tips that you can apply to every piece of writing. Here are my favourites:
- Beware weak qualifying adverbs
- Make certain that every word is working hard work.
- Check for head-hopping
- Remove unnecessary ‘telling’
- Write a first page to die for
- Start in the action
- Carefully proofread each and every line
4. Apply all your training to your manuscriptWhether or not you do all your training before you start to write your main thing, or you’ve already completed a manuscript and now need to revisit and refine it, now’s the time to apply everything you’ve learned.
5. Befriend a beta-reader (or three)Find some widely-read friends who will read your (best) work and give you honest feedback. So, probably don’t pick your mum (she’ll gush) or your spouse (you’ll fall out). Ask them to report back on specifics: which characters did they feel connected to? Did they feel engaged with the plot? How hard was it to read/put down?
6. Apply the beta-readers’ feedback to your manuscript
7. Engage a Professional EditorNo, you don’t have to marry one. But you will have to pay for their services. Once you are sure that you have written the one thing you need to write, in the best way you possibly can, and you’ve applied all the new learning you’ve just gained, and you’ve edited, and edited, and re-written, and edited after applying the feedback from your beta-readers, then engage a professional editor. You might only want to pay for a manuscript appraisal at first, and a good editor will give you a detailed appraisal that will help you work out the big things you need to work on: structure, character building, tone, POV etc.
A professional editor will also be able to honestly advise you whether or not you are likely to find a home for your work in a traditional publishing house, or whether you should pursue self-publishing instead. Either way, the expense will be worthwhile.