I’ve written those two glorious words, The End, now what? – Carmel Harrington

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By Carmel Harrington

There’s no better feeling for a writer, than typing those two words. The End. I always expect fireworks to explode into the dark sky, or perhaps an O Happy Day gospel choir to burst into song.♥

But alas, once that first draft is written, it’s not happily ever after time yet. Your work has just begun! Time for the dreaded rewrites and revisions.

One of the questions I’m most asked by aspiring writers, is – how do I know when my novel is ready to send out on submission to agents or publishers?

Not yet, I answer.

But I’ve tweaked and edited my words, my lines, so much, that my eyes hurt, they cry.

Oh yeah, I get that. We’ve all hit the stage where we think, that’s it now – I can’t do anymore.

Here’s the thing, you only get one shot to impress. So please don’t fall into the trap of sending out your work too soon. Even if your mam, brother and best friend all tell you that’s it’s Jane Austen perfect.

I’ve found that I need three sets of revisions, on each manuscript, before they are ready to send out to my publisher.

Revisions are tough to do without some outside help though. It’s impossible to be objective about our own work. Unless you are an exception to that rule, you need a critique partner.

A what you cry?

A critique partner – someone who understands the craft of writing. They recognise issues with plot, point of view, tenses, structure, pace, characterisation.

Ideally, you should find a good freelance book editor. I understand that for many of us, budget restrictions might be an issue here. But all manuscripts should go through three main types of edits – structural, copy editing and proofreading. And if you can only afford one of these, I’d go for the structural edit every time!

This edit – or readers report – will identify weaknesses in your manuscript, plot holes, issues with characters, timelines, dialogue, pace and viewpoints. It will also, just as importantly recognise your strengths, that perhaps need developing. In short, it tackles the big picture issues in your story. Get that right, then you can tackle the line by line edits.

I write emotional family dramas and without fail, my editor always asks me to dig deeper, wring out every ounce of emotion from each character, during the structural edit. And by doing this, I always find some unseen elements of the story begin to shine.

In Beyond Grace’s Rainbow, my editor identified the need for some extra content midway through the novel. Grace, the central character, disappeared for several chapters, as I explored some of the sub characters lives. I had missed this completely.

In The Life You Left, my editor suggested that my original love interest for Sarah’s twin brother, James, needed to go. She really didn’t play a purpose in the novel and was weak. By eliminating her, I created a new character – a feisty best friend for Sarah, who became James’ new love interest and a far better fit for him!

In Every Time A Bell Rings, my editor suggested I work on one particular scene, where Belle is at her lowest. Dig deeper, she insisted. Really get to grips with WHY Belle is so despondent. And the scene that resulted, is one I’m most proud of now.

And in The Things I Should Have Told You, my editor pushed me hard to really explore why Olly and Mae’s marriage was in such trouble. By doing this, it opened up several new plot lines, that have added so much to the story.

I love this stage of the editing process. I know that at times it will be difficult. I know that there will be suggestions that I don’t agree with. But I also know that because of the crucial structural edit, my story will be much better. A good editor doesn’t hijack your work, they just want to make sure that it’s the best possible version.

All is not lost, if paying for an editor is out of the question. Go to your local library or Arts Centre! More than likely they will host writing groups. I know it’s incredibly daunting to share your work with strangers, but I promise you, no matter how nervous you feel, there is someone even more terrified in that room!

And failing that, there are some online groups you can submit your work to, for review. SkyPen.com, YouWriteOn.com or Authonomy.com give feedback from other writers. You might even have an editor fall in love with your book and land a book deal at the same time. It could happen!

So, armed with your critique, you need to then revise. By taking a break from the manuscript for at least two weeks, you’ll return to your work with fresh readers eyes. Take on board the suggestions you’ve received. You don’t have to agree with them all, but you would be very silly to ignore constructive criticism.

And get ready to kill those darlings of yours. In other words, just because you’ve written a beautiful piece of prose, or cracking, witty dialogue, doesn’t mean it should stay in your manuscript. Know when to cut. And then cut some more.

When you’ve made the changes, send the revised manuscript back to your critique partner or editor for another read and once again, give your eyes a break for a couple of weeks.

Then – you guessed it – it’s time to revise again.

I’m such an impatient person by nature, so understand why some writers can’t wait, and simply must get their work out. But it’s a tough, competitive world you are about to enter into. So take the time to make your work the very best version it can be. I think this is even more important for self-published authors.

Writing those beautiful words, The End, is such a powerful moment in a writers life. But it’s really only the start of the process. If you put the time in now, ensuring you’ve done everything you possibly can to improve that first draft, your chances will improve ten fold.

And I promise, you will get to the Happily Ever After part soon enough …


Carmel Harrington is an award-winning author from Co. Wexford. Her latest novel, The Things I Should Have Told You, (HarperCollins) is available now. Her other bestsellers include Every Time A Bell Rings, The Life You Left and Beyond Grace’s Rainbow (Kindle Book of The Year & Romantic eBook of the Year 2013). She is a regular on Irish TV, as a panelist on TV3’s Midday Show and is Chair of Wexford Literary Festival.

www.carmelharrington.com

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