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A couple of months ago I deemed my YA NaNoWriMo novel ready for another set of eyes. I had written it. I had read it. I had ironed out glaring mistakes. So I sent it off to one of several test readers.
I knew he would find issues. The novel is rather more technology heavy than I had intended. Being not very technological minded, I did my research, and as long as that did not contradict my intentions, I went with "if I need it to work a certain way, it will work a certain way". It was fiction, after all. Plus, I knew my friend would pick out anything that my Google research missed.
Well, Mid-May that feedback arrived in my inbox. Fantastic feedback with rather more comments than I had expected, many along the lines of "this doesn't work this way" and "this doesn't make sense" and "did you intend for your characters to be so violent?" I most certainly did not and after I saw each instance of unnecessary violence pointed out to me, I was shocked I had not discovered that myself. Definitely something that required a lot more attention.
I must admit I was never a very confident person and, after the first read through of all the comments, my first instinct was to feel discouraged. The manuscript I had been quite happy with was lousy. But then I reminded myself that editing is what writing is all about. Anyone can have a great idea, and many can put it on paper, but not all will polish and shine the manuscript until it is ready. Besides, every book on writing, and every writer talking about their writing progress mentions their alpha readers - be they a spouse, a couple of friends, or a writing group - who read their manuscript once they consider it ready, and provide the critical opinion their loving creator's eye no longer sees. Then they sit down and edit. And so would I.
Already on that first night I felt the wheels clicking into motion again. The following day, I read the comments again and I realised, it wasn't as bad as it appeared at first glance. The fantastical elements were pretty decent. They just needed a bit of extra explanation here and there, because things that make sense in my head don't always make sense to other people. Just as I had expected, it was the realistic bits (i.e. technology and some other bits) that had caught me out. A little worse than I had expected.
What I really loved about my friend's comments was that he pointed out where he found a problem and told me why he considered it problematic. Unless he knew I wouldn't have the information I needed (for example with nitty-gritty technology bits that simply work a certain way and no other) he did not offer solutions. It was up to me to decide if a problem really was a problem and how I intended to solve it. Sometimes it was just a line or two of additional explanation or description. Other times it required me to go deeper into the story I had intended to tell and find the red string that would tie things up nicely rather than follow my, sometimes implausible, original path.
For the next three weeks my mind went into overdrive, restructuring and shifting scenes, changing illogical choices to more logical ones, and smoothing out rough edges. Again, my trusty notebook was always by my side. Before long I had written 6 pages of bullet points. With the new structure and scenes I had planned out in my head, I felt I was telling my story much more smoothly than I had before.
Several weeks later, after an extensive writing break, I am finally sitting down with the manuscript to create draft number 2 and feeling ridiculously pleased with myself to be able to improve on my original work. I have heard it said that writing is a lonely task. When it comes to the writing process I would agree. However, I would also say that behind every writer tends to be a fantastic support network of friends and family, who not only encourage them in their moments of doubt, but provide that invaluable first feedback that guides them toward their ideal story.