Discover more from Better Writing with Blake Atwood
Why some books fall short
An essential reminder for your next self-editing session
👋 Welcome to Better Writing
I’m Blake Atwood, a nonfiction editor, author, and ghostwriter. My literary claim to nominal fame is as an early developmental editor on Atomic Habits, but I’ve worked on more than 60 books, including a few of my own. If this was forwarded to you and you’d like to subscribe, please do so below.
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Disclaimer: Jason and I are working on his book proposal, and I’m heartily recommending his Substack newsletter because I believe his tactics will help many, many people. No matter your profession, your level, or your current contentment (or lack thereof) with your job, you will glean something from his insight that will help you enjoy your day-to-day much more often.
DFWCon is an excellent writers conference in my proverbial backyard—and I’m teaching two classes there.
This year it’s Oct. 7-8 in Hurst, TX. The keynote speakers are Dave Eggers and Evangeline Lilly—both reason enough to attend, I would argue. The full class schedule has yet to be released, but I can tell you about two classes because I’m leading them:
How to Craft a Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal
Atomic Habits for Nonfiction Authors: The Small Changes You Need to Make in Your Nonfiction Writing and Marketing to See Compounding Results
Registration is open, and the cost varies on how many days you plan to attend.
If you have books on Amazon, you may want to check out ReaderScout, a new and free Chrome plugin from Dave at Kindlepreneur.
It alerts you to new reviews and pricing changes. I’ve just begun using it and discovered that I need to clean up what books Amazon associates with my name because I’m not sure it’s grabbing my latest editions.
Late addition: If you’re self-published on Amazon, be sure to read this.
Why some books fall short
“You can’t train for something all your life and then have it fall short because you are hurrying to get it finished.”
John Steinbeck wrote that in Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, a collection of letters to his editor while Steinbeck was writing and agonizing over East of Eden.
Steinbeck wasn’t writing that advice solely to his editor. He was reminding himself of a fact that we all need to remember.
Don’t rush your edits.
Many of my clients have an intense desire to see their words in print soon. They’ve written what they think is a good-enough draft. They’ve sent it to me. They want me to copyedit it within a few weeks. And then they want to publish it so they can finally tell the world, “Look at my book! I wrote a book! I’m an author!”
I get it. I really do. I was once the same.
Despite our best intentions, the validation we seek as writers often comes from our books’ public reception. But that shouldn’t be the case.
Because some writers see publication as the only way they’ll know if they have what it takes to be a writer, they run toward being published with wild abandon.
This need for speed affects both writers who self-publish and those who seek traditional publishing. And many writers wrestle with taking the necessary time to self-edit because they feel like they’re so close to the finish line after having completed an adequate working draft.
The truth is that even a completed draft, fully self-edited and fully edited by a professional editor, is not the finish line.
Releasing the book isn’t even the finish line.
You still have to market the thing.
I’m not even sure you should have a finish line.
If you’re in this writing game for the long haul, your finish line is your life’s finish line. At worst, your finish line for the book you’re currently writing is the first word you type for your next book.
I say all that to say this: After you’ve furiously written your first draft, and after you’ve rested your manuscript for as long as it takes you to almost forget it, slow down.
Take your time while editing.
Forget the rush to publish.
Focus on the work at hand.
A practical suggestion for scheduling self-editing
Once you’re in the right mindset, set aside ample time to comb through your manuscript. What I mean isn’t in relation to how many minutes or hours you spend each day editing.
Rather, figure out your deadline for when you’d like to have your edits completed.
You will need to have a rough approximation of the amount of work you have to do. If you’ve never edited yourself before, you may not know how much time you’ll need. Sometimes, even when you do know yourself as a writer and self-editor, you’ll still be unsure how much time you need.
You may get to the middle of your book and suddenly realize: This just took a severe turn for the worse. What you thought would require twenty hours of work suddenly needs twice that.
That’s just part of the game.
And you’ll learn much about yourself in that process.
To be consistent with your self-editing schedule, set a deadline that feels slightly unachievable. That should also compel you to finish.
For instance, If I’m attempting a developmental edit on 50,000 words (while working a full-time job unrelated to my writing life) and I’m less than confident in where my story goes, I may set aside two months.
If I’m copyediting 50,000 words and I’m a confident writer, I may set aside a month to do my edits.
How long you need will vary on your manuscript length, your writing ability, and your self-editing knowledge. If you’ve never self-edited before, give yourself ample time so you can learn your pace. Use an online timer application like Toggl.com to track your time spent editing.
Lastly, you can force yourself to take your time while self-editing by chunking your time.
If you think you’ll need ten hours to edit your manuscript, set aside thirty minutes every weekday for a month. Don’t go any longer than thirty minutes during any editing session. By scheduling your edits in this manner, you’re forcing yourself to slow down.
Plus, editing for thirty minutes a day is much easier on your brain than labor-intensive, hourslong sessions under the duress of an impending deadline.
Don’t rush yourself in a vain striving to be published.
Make your book the best you can before worrying about anything else.
The next time you sit down to edit, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself: better writing is slow work.
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To be honest, I still am. Even as an editor, I often don’t give my own words enough time to rest because I just want to get on to the next thing, or get feedback from readers, or my laziness gets in the way. If there’s one thing most writers have in the bag, it’s a bevy of excuses.