Writing a book can be a difficult and time-consuming project, especially for an unpublished writer.
You’re often working alone, with no one to guide you through the process and help you to improve the story you’re so desperate to tell.
And it can be difficult to access the right support. There are plenty of editors out there who offer a great service, but it’s one that comes at a price. Of course these people should be compensated appropriately for their work, but for an unpublished writer with no guarantee of ever publishing a manuscript, several hundred pounds can feel like a big investment.
I’ve paid to have my manuscript edited and the biggest frustration I found was that once I’d read the report and made some changes to the book, I was back to where I started. I would have loved to go back to the editor and see if my improvements had made a difference, or debate the different courses of action I could take next. But the more contact you need, the more it costs.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need outside help to improve your manuscript. I’ve done it myself.
More than once I’ve found myself totally stuck, knowing the book needs to be better, but not knowing how to get it there.
Every time I’ve wished I had someone I could turn to for help. But every time, I’ve managed to do the work myself and you can too.
If you’re hitting a wall with editing your manuscript, there are a few things you can do.
Give yourself space
It’s amazing how many times I’ve edited the first chapter of my novel and told myself, yep this is it – it’s good.
Then a few weeks later, I come back to it and find myself stripping out whole paragraphs, rewriting dialogue and trimming extraneous description.
There’s always more you can do, but it’s hard to see where the cuts need to be made when you’re caught up in the story. Put the book away for a couple of weeks, or months, or work on a totally different section. You’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and the problems you overlooked before will become a lot clearer.
Every time you think you’ve gone as far as you can, put the book away for a while. Give yourself space but always, always come back to it.
If you keep plugging away, even changing a line here or there, you’re making it better.
Stay involved in the project, but if you’re struggling, don’t go into it too deeply. Allow the problems to drift around your subconscious and eventually you’ll come up with a way to fix them.
Have a support network
You might not be able to afford a professional editor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find people to offer feedback on your work.
Join a writing group, either online or in real life. It’s a great way of meeting other writers who are most likely also looking for someone to help edit their work. Offer to trade manuscripts with them and not only will you have help improving your book, but you’ll also get better at editing as you pick out the problems in their manuscript.
Absorb the lessons you learn from other people
When you first start to get feedback on your work, it can be hard to deal with.
You’ll probably get some feedback that hurts your feelings, or makes you realise your book isn’t as good as you thought. Try not to take it personally.
The people who succeed with their writing are the ones who take on board criticism and use it to make their work better. If you always ignore feedback or refuse to believe something isn’t working, you’re only hurting yourself and your book.
And the more feedback you get, the more you’ll start to see patterns. I know I have a tendency to overwrite, so I always have to go back through my work and trim it down, cutting out anything unnecessary or clichéd.
You can figure it out for yourself
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wished that I had someone to tell me exactly what changes I should make to my book to get it published.
But it doesn’t work that way, I have to do the hard work myself.
There are plenty of resources out there that can help, from mentoring programmes to online courses.
The main thing I’ve learned is, despite my tendency to doubt my own abilities, it is possible to figure it out for yourself. You know your work better than anyone and you have the tools to improve it. It might take time and painfully hard work, but you don’t need someone else to take the lead.
You can do it.