I have just finished editing the third draft of my first book, the latter based on my nearly twenty-five years in the financial services industry. This has been a two years’ process, not counting months of organizing research material before the first written word.
While there remain major steps ahead in looking toward publication, there have been helpful lessons learned in the process so far. Some of these issues have no doubt served as roadblocks for would-be novelists, those who would dream, or even declare, they are going to write a book, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Starting a project like this is a far cry from completing it.
First of all, determine a minimum pace of writing and try do no less as a regular form of commitment. I know it’s possible to strike the wall of writer’s block, but the adage about ‘getting back on the horse’ is apropos. One hears of the loneliness of the occupation of writing; there are ambience options one can explore. Meanwhile, setting some kind of writing schedule helps to keep momentum, inflating the opportunity for flow.
There have been some, well-intentioned, who advocate that a book of value can be written in thirty days. Depending on the seriousness and depth of the main subject, it may be possible to do so, taking advantage of some tips and shortcuts. But I suspect the end product inevitably suffers from the focus on timetable, lessened perhaps for the inspired, minimal sleeper, who can objectively edit along the way.
Secondly, have any relevant research, resource material organized and at the ready. Proximity of such information makes one more inclined to engage in the somewhat tedious task of extracting. But, done well, this brings more depth and credibility to one’s output.
Third, have an idea of the target audience. This was one of the first questions posed to me when I asked my sister, who is a free-lance editor, to look at a portion of the first draft. With an expectation in mind of who is likely to be the main audience for one’s work, one can have a mind-set of relating through the choices of topics, language, and sub-text. Part of translating this in writing is to minimize jargon and to spell out acronyms.
Fourth, while writing efficiently and effectively benefits from a degree of flow, be sure to balance imagery and diverse details with brevity and conciseness; balance dry information with examples of human impact.
Fifth, keep at it. While it is helpful to take some spells of relief, to recharge and enhance objectivity, don’t make these breaks too long so as to lose direction and motivation.
Recognize that once the draft is completed, this is only the end of the first major step. Don’t fall in love with the initial exposition.
Part of a professional approach is to appreciate the ‘joy of editing’. If a screenwriting project can endure ten or more drafts – and even then may be changed if actually put into production – then surely one’s dedicated writing project deserves at least a couple of serious edits. I found myself surprised at the level of satisfaction the processing of editing can provide.
Anyone who has done any serious, and especially extensive, writing understands that some mental space after finishing a project will greatly assist reviewing one’s work. Re-reading one’s efforts, with a more critical mind, opens the door to improvement: restructuring passages to improve cohesion, deleting portions which prove superfluous, tweaking words and phrases to minimize static or repetition, even correcting grammar or typos. These are challenges which qualify as a version of detective work.
Also, one of the most important tips I have realized is: read your writing aloud, sensitive to what the reader’s eye and ear will see and hear. What seems to be acceptable flow being read on the page sometimes does not translate nearly as well when spoken out.
Finally, get feedback from others (my next step) before going to print. As with so much of human effort, getting the perspective of others can bring revelations and reinforcement, so that one’s completed effort, while never perfect, will have a polish and glow of which one can be proud.