One of the hardest parts about writing a debut novel is that there are certain parts that you PAY to do. I mean, maybe not everyone does, but I’ve certainly found that it comes with expenses. Whether it be membership to a writing community to network or paying to attend an event, a webinar fee to learn more about the industry or a certain expertise, assistance from a graphic designer, or a website URL and platform (which coming from web production I just could not bring myself to use a free, aka highly limited, domain or website)… money is going out the door, but nothing is coming in. All of these things could be skipped, I suppose, and I certainly set limitations, but I’d be shocked to find a writer that doesn’t pay for SOME part of being a writer.
My biggest expense is my editor. I pay her an hourly fee every month. We have a max number of hours per month set up based on my self-budgeting, so there is a cap. But, since I have started writing, I haven’t gone a month without using her. And I have to say, it’s been worth every penny.
So what do I mean by 'editor'? Basically someone that focuses on content and ideas, rather than on copy-editing/proofreading. It’s someone that will help you form the structure of your book and will point out where the story needs to be built out or scaled back. They may present ideas of their own, but they do not write any part of it. They comment and provide feedback along the way to your final manuscript.
I started using Laura in late 2015 when I was really beginning to take my novel seriously. If I hadn’t, I think I’d still be under the (delusional) opinion that the first draft of my book was pretty good. In the nicest way possible, she showed me its flaws and walked me through what I needed to do next. She provided me resources to learn more about plot construction and encouraged me to use an outline (which, unbelievably, I hadn’t done the first time around). She coached me on which characters needed to be flushed out and where my dialogue was particularly weak. Her initial feedback showed me I needed to kind of start from scratch, even if the idea of starting from scratch was absolutely overwhelming.
So overwhelming in fact, I stepped back from the book and didn’t re-engage with it until the summer of 2016. I knew right away I needed to loop Laura in again. Throughout the fall Laura and I regularly went back and forth with feedback on my outlines (we went through five drafts) and feedback on my book. We are currently tackling draft five of my book. I’ve been processing her recent round of comments all week.
So, why is this so useful?
I need an objective voice - my husband and friends will always tell me what I’m working on is great. They may give me a point or two, but they are too emotionally involved with me to lay it all out. Laura calls it all out. She tells me what is working and what isn’t. She tells me when a section I think is cool is too long and needs to be cut or when a character I think is clear is completely confusing. She isn’t worried about a personal relationship when she critiques me, so that frees up our back and forth. PS… there is no better feeling than when I get a note that just says “this is good!” or “I love this!” because I know that it must be pretty good for it to get a note.
I need a trained opinion - although I was a double lit major in college, wrote paper after paper in grad school, and have written extensively and in a wide variety of formats for my various jobs, I have no training specifically for writing, especially writing a novel (man do I wish I could go back in time and take at least one creative writing class in college!). There is a skill to this, a structure, a proper procedure, that I may implicitly know from reading, but that I do not have any expertise in. There is a method to this, a training, a procedure to writing that I need to learn. Laura points these things out to me as we go along.
It’s a great, consistent benchmark - working with the same person for so long allows me to really denote my progress. Whole sections of my book now are comment free. I can tell when one section is a lost cause because it always gets poor notes or when I’ve made marked improvement. And, I have someone who has been with me along the way know the how’s and why’s of my book’s structure.
I need a professional commitment - God bless my friends that say they want to read my book and provide feedback, but let’s face it - life gets in the way. A promise to a friend is always made with good intentions, but it comes with a varying degree of follow-through. By having someone ‘on the payroll’ I know that I will get a level of professionalism and follow-through that will guarantee results.
Writing is not a solitary activity - I am 100% positive my book is better because of having a second set of eyes on it. Writing is such a personal experience and I realize that so much more is in my head than what is on the paper. When I write something out, it is often imbued with backstory and context that I haven’t actually written. I have found that I NEED to have a reader take a look and give me the READER’S perspective, because ultimately, that’s what this is all about.
One of the questions I ask in my #WritersQuick5 series is “At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?” and I have to say, for me, it’s gotta be every step of the way. I couldn’t do this without Laura. My book wouldn’t be what it is without her, and I know we’ll keep working together on my next book and the one after that. It may seem crazy to spend money to write a book. But, it’s a must in my world and a meaningful partnership. I can only hope that all other writers out there can find a similar relationship, because it’s absolutely worth it.
PS… a lot of time people ask me how I found Laura. I wish I had some magic answer for you. She was connected to me by one of my best friends. I’d met her before, so there was a high level of comfort there, and I knew her credentials and felt lucky she agreed to help me. I wish I had some insights into editor searching and/or vetting, but I don’t. In fact, I probably could have been more strategic and paid someone with connections into the industry or to an agency. But, I went with trust first and I’m glad that I did. To learn more about Laura, check out my collaborators page.
If you would like to be featured in my #WritersQuick5 series, please reach out and let me know. I’m always looking for new people to promote!