This post shares my experiences as a first time novelist. From years of writing pieces for court and file documentation in my social work job, I gained experience with factual and business writing. A few years back I ventured into the realm of creative writing. I had taken some courses to get an idea of how to go about making this switch.
Notably, the workshops and summer courses at UBC Okanagan’s creative writing department from Writer-in Residence, Laisha Rosnau, were very helpful to me. I gained insight into the mechanics of good writing, story line and character development and was inspired by the experience. In particular, receiving and giving constructive feedback in the workshop with fellow students gave me the confidence that indeed, I could follow my instincts and that, apparently, I can write.
I took additional courses at the Okanagan College with additional professional writers who provided the practical instruction on how to earn an income from writing, how to actually publish a book, what to do to prepare your work for publication and become a successful author. As well, guest authors who had published their work shared their experiences with the class completing the experience.
At both educational institutions, the small classes with hands-on instruction from published authors opened the door to a new world for me. I felt quite at home with the group of similar people of various ages, all in the grip of wanting to write and to develop their art of putting one word after the other, making beautiful sentences that eventually become a story.
After writing for more than two years, my novella’s first draft was completed consisting of 12 short stories, ready for a professional edit. My former instructors were willing to take on the job of editing. They were courageous taking on a first work of a new author!
Everybody in the business advises to have a good edit before even thinking of sending any query letters out to publishers or agents with a sample of one’s writing. That was indeed really, really good advice.
As a writer, one puts down the first drafts of stories without much filter, with no sense of whether the material is even interesting to others. Writing is a very introverted activity, even if parts of the product are shared with others, occasionally. With all the research in the world one cannot predict what comes out at the end and if there would be a reader for it. Writing is a gamble, a stab in the dark.
After a first draft, self-editing follows to make the sentences understandable, the plot more visible, and the endings better. After two years of Sunday writing, I proudly delivered my novella for editing, eagerly awaiting feedback.
The process of the first professional edit is a long and time-consuming process. All those words I used and pasted together, all those long, beautiful sentences and, not to forget, the stories within the story—all out the window! In fact the edit is teaching me even more than all the courses combined did. What I thought was pretty clear, was just not! My editors got lost in the many characters that I trudged out to do their dance in my story. With a firm and clear focus they advise me which chapter (!) to rewrite, which ones to omit altogether, or they tell me to separate all the complicated stories into stand-alone stories.
Gratefully, I notice that some of my work gets the OK nod and only receives minor edits or copyediting for the grammatical and spelling errors. And I write again, polishing, adding dialogue and putting more punch in the endings. I am halfway now. Will later chapters be thrown out?
In the meantime, I received an email announcing that one of my stories, not included in the novella, is short-listed for the annual local short story competition, organized by the BC University’s creative writing department, the local college and the public radio station, CBC. I am delighted and encouraged. See, I can write!
I would have been mortified had I gone ahead and self published an unedited version, as many eager writers did–to their detriment. There are already enough badly written books out there. Even as a dedicated reader, with an appetite for a broad variety of styles and genres, but lately reading only award-winning authors, I was unable to obtain enough distance from my own writing to achieve any sort of impartial view on the story lines and the readability of the stories of this first book. It is much like a parent, unable to see faults in their child, or for a woman in love to see her lover’s duplicity.
With a bit of luck and lots of hard work I hope to develop a more critical eye quickly, under the tutelage of my editors. Hurray for editors: they save the world from more crappy books!