Thursday, May 15, 2014

Guest Post: Cathi Shaw, author of Five Corners

Today we have YA fantasy author Cathi Shaw with us, talking a little about the editing process.

The Secret to Editing

            Editing is the secret to good writing (but if you’re reading this you probably already know that). Editing is also the most skipped over part of the writing process. I always tell my students that 60% of their writing time should be taken up by editing. Unfortunately, most of us hate editing.

            I think one of the ways to make the editing process work best, is if you can take a break from your project before you leap into the edits. We all feel as if it is DONE when we put those final few words on a draft. In reality it is just starting but it’s hard to see that when you’ve just finished your masterpiece.

            My practice is to finish the draft and then take a week or two off. Write something else, take a break from writing altogether, do some spring cleaning – whatever will keep you away from your project (I usually start a new project if I can because there’s nothing so all encompassing as a new story idea).

            After I’ve taken some time away from my manuscript, I sit down with it and start reading it. I try to do this with fresh eyes; to look at the story from the reader’s point of view. And inevitably by the second page I’m making changes (some of them big and some of them small).

            For me, this first stage of editing takes anywhere from a week to several months. It doesn’t really matter how long it takes – the crucial piece to making it successful is that break at the start.

            After I’ve edited my MS to death (at least that’s how it feels at that stage), I send it out to my trusty beta readers. I do it at this stage for a few reasons. First, if there are any major problems with the plotline that I’m too blind to see, I’d like to find out at this stage rather than at the stage when I think the story is actually finished. Second, by this time I really can’t see what needs to still be done with the MS – sometimes there needs to be more character development, sometimes a certain scene doesn’t make sense to an outside reader, sometimes it’s just massive rewording of some sections of the story. So I turn to my readers.

            By the way, if you do have some trusted readers who will give you honest feedback, it’s helpful to provide them with some guiding questions. I keep these pretty general: where did you feel lost in the story, what parts were boring or repetitive, what parts needed more information or description?

            Give your beta readers some time to get through your masterpiece. This is one of the toughest parts – waiting (I’m impatient by nature so waiting for anything is akin to torture for me). Be realistic. For my novels (which are about 70,000 words) I give a month. If you need feedback within a certain timeline, let your readers know. Some of them might not be able to help you out. That’s okay, too. Just move on to other beta readers (you should start collecting as many eager readers as you can early on).

            When you get feedback from your readers, read it. I know that sounds pretty simple but often you won’t necessarily agree with the feedback or it will be a bit negative and it’s hard to read a critique of your own work. It is normal to be hurt by less positive feedback, but if you truly want to improve your MS, you really need to listen to what your readers are telling you. Sometime the advice or suggestions is totally off base, but, more often than not, it actually is the truth. Especially if two or more of your beta readers are saying the same thing, you probably should listen to them.

            I try to read my feedback, give it a few days and then reread it. From there I jump into the next round of edits, making changes as suggested by my readers, correcting an errors they caught and so on. This stage takes me between 2-3 weeks usually but it really depends on how big the edits need to be.

            And then I’m ready to send the manuscript to my publisher! Don’t think the editing is over at this stage … it just reaches a new level. Depending on your publisher, you may have to engage in major edits to the storyline or simple copy edits. I’ve had to do both, depending on project. At any rate, expect to make changes after the publisher receives the book.

            So the editing process is fairly detailed. The best advice I can give is to remember that editing really is writing. It takes up the bulk of your time as a writer and, yes, it can be onerous. But a detailed editing process is what makes a mediocre manuscript into a masterpiece!
Author Bio

Cathi Shaw lives in Summerland, BC with her husband and three children.  She is often found wandering around her home, muttering in a seemingly incoherent manner, particularly when her characters have embarked on new adventure. In addition to writing fiction, she teaches rhetoric and professional writing in the Department of Communications at Okanagan College and is the co-author of the textbook Writing Today.

 Five Corners Book Blurb (from Goodreads)
Growing up in a sleepy village untouched by distant wars and political conflicts, it was easy for Thia, Mina and Kiara to forget such horrors existed in the Five Corners. That is until the dead child is found; a child that bears the same strange birthmark that all three sisters possess. A Mark their mother had always told them was unique to the girls. Kiara's suspicions grow as their Inn is soon overrun with outsiders from all walks of life. Strangers, soldiers and Elders who all seem to know more about what is happening than the girls do. After Mina barely survives an attack in the forest, the sisters are faced with a shattering secret their mother has kept from them for years. As danger closes in around them, the sisters are forced from their home and must put their trust in the hands of strangers. With more questions than answers, Kiara finds herself separated from everyone she loves and reliant on an Outlander who has spent too much time in army. She doesn't trust Caedmon but she needs him if she has any hope of being reunited with her sisters and learning what the Mark might mean.

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