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Let Ideas Escape (by John Read)

21 March 2016

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This week's #SelfPubSpotlight reveals John's editing woes and the opinions that made him cut 20,000 words and re-add another 7,000. Did the professional editor get it right? Should it have been re-written at all? The trouble is, every book will divide people, it's just about how big the divide ends up!

Here's John's Submission - his editing

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I never had a strong desire to write, but sometimes ideas win the fight against my fingers and escape on to the page.

"Weird stuff happens when you let ideas escape."

I started taking naps after work. After ten hours in a cube you have to nap, otherwise you go mad. I'd awake full of ideas and rush to the computer, afraid they'd be lost like a forgotten dream. Ideas hit me during meetings. I wrote in messy handwriting so no one could see what I was writing. Once the ideas escaped and I could focus on the meeting. Somehow it made me a better employee.

Ideas often attack at 7am when I'm trying to drink coffee. After one paragraph I hit a state of flow, blink and it's 8:15; time to drive to the office for a 9am meeting where I'll come up with more ideas. It's addictive letting ideas escape. In the evening after putting my son to bed, I'd sit on the couch and turn the ideas into paragraphs. If I had writers block, I'd go to bed. In the car I listened to the band Angels and Airwaves. The songs teleported me from the car as if in a trance. I'd hold the wheel imagining an aircraft's yoke. I'd imagine characters in spacesuits on Mars, fighting with crossbows. I'd wake up at 2am with an idea, pick up my phone and email it to myself (circadian rhythms be damned).

"A brain can't hold ideas for long. - You've got to write them down."

Every few weeks I'd start at the beginning, rewriting the opening chapter over and over. I'd go through the entire book start to finish.I wrote the last line of the book The Martian Conspiracy in January of 2015 and purchased editing software called ProWritingAid for $28. The software scans each chapter looking for sticky sentences and vague words. I learned more about writing using this software than in any English class. My wife and I read the entire manuscript aloud, fine-tuning each sentence until it sounded like poetry. A co-worker volunteered to read my novel as a favor. I decided to delay the professional edit until I got her opinion.

A week later the coworker told me she had been under a lot of stress and was having a rough time, but the stress went away when she began editing my book. She told me one section reminded her of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I don't know if I'm a good writer. I feel like I'm in the eighth grade, trying to write as few words as possible and hoping for a C. Some people like Earnest Hemmingway's A Man and the Sea because it's written at a fifth grade level. Readers fly through Hemmingway because it's poetic. I read Charles Dickens' David Copperfield last year, it was meant to read at an eighth grade level. I found it hard. I want to be more like Hemmingway, so I hired an editor and he told me to rewrite the entire book.

I rewrote the book in eight weeks, cutting 20,000 words and adding back 7,000. He edited the book again and called it "99% done". We hired a proofreader for the last 1% and put the book on Amazon. Reviews have been mixed. Some people love it; one person called it "The Worst Book On Mars I've Ever Read." Another person said they "didn't like it but couldn't put it down".

I'm not sure what to think about that. Writing is like reincarnation. A story is born with an idea. Once published it's a memory fixed in time, but the process starts over again.


NGP Says

Editing is always going to be a process where you feel you're losing something original and like some of your creativity and personal touch is being hacked away at. Detaching yourself from your feelings a little and being able to be critical of your work is often a turning point. Having someone else proof-read and edit is much more effective as you won't be the one tempted to keep your favourite bits in. Also, it'll help give you structure and help you develop your writing style further as no doubt you'll re-read you work and start following the patterns your editor will have helped you create. Having some trust in the skills and expertise of your editor is definitely a confidence builder when handing over your work to be critiqued. There's always an option of sending your book to more than one editor don't forget. Choose the edit you feel most appropriates what you set out to achieve.

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