Getting it right: Helpful techniques to improve your final story draft

It’s pretty rare to get something right the first time, which is great! If we got things right all the time, then there would be no point in practicing, no reason to grow, everything would be easy. Probably too easy to make life a challenge worth accepting.

Included in the very long list of things you will not get right is your writing. You won’t get your stories right the first time, most likely you won’t get them right the second time either, or the third, fourth, or fifth time.

It will take time to get it right.

Give it a couple of days

The most important thing that any writer can do is to step away from their work and come back to it later. Time away from your text means time you can spend on you, improving and thinking about you. It may seem hard but your characters are fictional, you are a real person and you need to do what is right for you.

It may take a long time to get your work right, a certain J.R.R Tolkien took years to complete the Lord of the Rings. He was too busy doing professor type things like marking, tutoring, translating and editing the works of his peers to be overly worried with publishing fantasy novels.

So go outside and get some sunshine, you should enjoy your life too!

Give it to someone else

You are too close to your work to be objective, so the best thing you can do to combat your feelings is to get some feedback. A friend or family member is a good place to start, but don’t rely on them for complete objectivity, just take what they give you and work on their suggestions. You can then move on to one of your cruel friends, acquaintances and random strangers you meet at parties.

For every author who claims divine insight, there are thousands of works waiting to be shaped from raw clay into a true work of art by a skilled editor. My favourite example is that of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was heavily edited by his friend and fellow writer Ezra Pound. Thankfully Eliot took Pound’s advice, cut his original poem dramatically and The Waste Land is now considered one of the great poems of the 20th century.

Give it a name

They say not to give names to the farmhouse chickens, lest they end up on your plate. Fortunately, your writing isn’t a chicken and is unlikely to be served with roast potatoes for Sunday dinner. So name the thing! Even if it’s just an interim name, nothing can give you a deeper connection than hammering down the title of your work.

Far from just a method of describing something you’re working on, a name can help you figure out exactly where the story is going. There have been some great working titles that haven’t made it onto covers, but describe the story perfectly, many of them were only changed at the behest of the publisher.

Don’t give up

It may take time to publish your work, or you might even publish and notice that your text needs revisions, some authors may not even have the chance to see their work published. Writing and editing to produce an amazing manuscript can take a long time and even when you finish you might find the timing just isn’t right.

My favourite story of determination is linked with one the greatest books of the 20th century. The book wasn’t published until years after the author’s death, but it would not have been published at all without the commitment of my literary hero, Thelma Toole. Who was Thelma Toole?

Thelma was the mother of John Kennedy Toole, author of the classic American novel A Confederacy of Dunces. After John’s tragic suicide in 1969 Thelma hounded publishers trying to get her son’s book printed, convinced that her son’s talent needed to be shared. Finally, in 1976, she got her foot in the door with the novelist Walker Percy who championed the work until it was published in 1980. It won a Pulitzer Prize the next year.

So even if it doesn’t happen right away…

It can still happen. Just know this, eventually, if you keep trying you will get it right.

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