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Today’s guest blog comes from international bestselling author Russell Blake.

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The Power of Polish

Writing a novel can be a tremendous rush. When things work at their best, the words seem to flow magically onto the page and the story writes itself.

Now you’ve finished your magnum opus and typed the last few words. You’ve given birth. Months or years of struggle have paid off. You’re a writer. The excitement is almost as palpable as the fatigue.

What’s next?

Stick the manuscript in a drawer and forget about it for a while. How long depends upon how good your memory is. I tend to let mine sit for a few weeks. Then I drag the beast out, and begin the process that turns a rough draft into something ready to send to the editor.

I polish. I rewrite. I skeptically eye each sentence, and ask myself whether I can eliminate superfluous words, backstory, dialog or characters. I buff each paragraph, mindful of echoes, gratuitous description, unnecessary exposition, overly self-congratulatory cleverness, or anything that doesn’t move the story forward or create a specific effect I’m after. I do so with patience and care, and don’t rush, because in my experience, the difference between something passable and something great is the rewrite and polish process.

I’m not talking editing. Editing comes after you’ve polished and cut, cajoling miracles out of 26 letters. Editing, be it story/content editing or copy/line editing, happens after you’ve done your level best to get the story into the finest shape it can be. Sometimes it takes two or three drafts to get it right. I tend to know pretty quickly on rewrite whether it’s going to be one round, or ten. Some stories just require more time. Some need more attention.

My counsel, such as it is, would be to allow yourself adequate time to polish your work to the point where you’re confident that your editor is going to be spinning his wheels in frustration trying to find something to change. If you can get to that point, you probably have a book that’s got a running chance. If you can’t, and if you skim over those niggling middle parts in a race to get it out the door, you’re doing yourself and your readers a huge disservice. Because they won’t skim. They’ll just give up. Or write a nasty review. Or worst yet, just not buy your next one.

I have somewhat of a reputation for cranking out novels pretty quickly, and its true, I’m more prolific than most. But while my process is to pull very long contiguous days while writing, I don’t rush the rewrite. Because that’s where books are made, or broken. My approach is to write like the devil’s chasing me, and then slow down to a crawl on rewrite. Others may do it differently. But that’s the system that works for me.

Parting words of advice are simple. If you can’t sit back and say, upon re-read, that you’ve done the very best job you can, you’re selling yourself and your readers short. You both deserve better, so slow down, have a little patience, and get out the thesaurus and Strunk and White. Don’t cut yourself any slack. Everyone you know probably will, but your readers ultimately won’t, and if you want to run with the big dogs, be prepared to have to put in the hours, with a lot of discipline and distance from your work. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the clutter. And you don’t want clutter or half-baked work to be your legacy. Every book should be your best, every time, and rewrite is a big part of ensuring that what you set forth as your product not only passes muster, but wows.

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“Captain” Russell, 52, lives on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where he spends his time writing, fishing, collecting & drinking tequila, and playing with his dogs. He is currently hard at work on a magnum opus of indeterminate plot, topic or genre, tentatively titled The Voynich Cypher; a satire/parody about the battle of the sexes; and a panoramic, epic screenplay about…cartoon ninja beavers for whom this time it’s personal, tentatively titled Beaver Team Bravo.

Often referred to as “The Writer’s Writer’s Writer’s Writer,” Russell is also a self-declared guru on everything related to writing, self-publishing and self-promotion.

Russell is the international bestselling author of Fatal Exchange, a groundbreaking genre-blending thriller set against the counter-culture backdrop of New York’s gritty underground, The Geronimo Breach, an action/intrigue/thriller set in Panama, the bestselling Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers – Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate (which hit #15 on Amazon’s top 100 free books), The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The ManuscriptThe Tortoise & The Hareand Phoenix Rising), the epic assassination thriller King of Swords, and its prequel,Night of the Assassin, and The Voynich Cypher.

Russell is a proud member of RABMAD – Read A Book, Make A difference.

Find out more about Russell at his website: www.russellblake.com.

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I’ve been connecting with a lot more people on both Twitter and Goodreads lately. Social media is such an important part of the new Author Paradigm, as Karen Baney pointed out here recently, and it comes with pleasant surprises and support.

Author Norma Budden took the time to pick up my book and give a very nice review of it on her blog and on Amazon. We also had a chat and she has posted an interview of me today.

Back to the edit/rewrite closet I go 🙂 This week is devoted to writing 8 chapters (mine are all 3-5 pages) that were not in the first draft. I’m the backwards lady that always has to add…. 🙂

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It’s time to play catch-up.

Or drag my feet.

Whichever way you want to look at it.

Thursday evening I completely finished my massive typing job. I was disappointed to find out the book is currently only 48.5k words (Come the Shadows is 66k, almost exactly average for the genre) but know that editing turns into ADDING for me, instead of taking away. I write so quickly, with my mind jumping from one thought to the next, that I frequently leave out everything but the bare bones. That leaves me putting in the softer bits as I edit.

Here’s where the feet dragging starts. I love the results of editing. I know every change makes the book better. However, I really don’t like editing. And, well, I haven’t started it yet. I’m putting it off until Monday.

Before you go getting ideas of pedicures, days in the sun, and lazy naps I have to point out that I fill my feet-dragging time with more work, thank you very much. It’s a personality flaw.

So, while I drag my feet on editing Red Sky Warning (which comes out Nov 29th) I am doing other important stuff.

I am re-editing Come the Shadows.

Yeah, the girl who hates editing, is reediting the first book.

I’m not changing characters, plot or any other information. But I have found some errors I need to get corrected. Most people probably won’t notice them, but some will, and it’s my duty to give the most error-free work I can. If you have purchased an earlier copy and you find errors, please accept my apologies. I hate them, but find it very hard to catch them all even with numerous pairs of eyes looking for them. No excuses, just know that I hate them and I want to destroy them 10x more than you don’t want to see them. (Confused? Sorry 😉 )

I am half way through that process on Come the Shadows. I committed to finishing the full read and mark-up tonight, and actually implementing all changes and updating 4 different sites tomorrow (with different files) to ensure that moving forward there are fewer errors. I wish I could say it’s error-free but how often is a book completely error-free? Yeah.

That leaves me with the set-in-stone commitment to start the diligent, sweat-inducing editing of Red Sky Warning this Monday and gives me seven weeks to complete it. Yahoo. I love deadlines. Without them I’d never get anything done.

I’m not working alone this weekend, either. My lovely husband is hard at work on the cover for Red Sky Warning and I hope to share it with you all soon.

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The extended typing project is going well and by mid-week I will have the first draft of my second novel complete. Then it’s on to the editing! I have several pieces of news to share soon. October will be devoted to editing almost exclusively. November…..that’s another story. I will be polishing and polishing and polishing but I will also have a lot of great things going on, from day 1 through the 29th (when I am publishing the sequel novel), and beyond!

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I counted last night.

140 = the number of hand-written pages currently comprising the vaguely named Book 2

45 = the budgeted pages left, based on content remaining (approximate)

60 = the actual number of pages left in the spiral notebook

These are hand-written pages.

I still haven’t typed a word.

I’m crazy.

I know.

Thing is, I have a sinking suspicion I may be tacking a few extra pages into the back of this spiral notebook. The chapters tend to get longer, somehow. I think it’s a mix of great action I want to draw out and something else entirely…

I have been feeling the pull on my feet… that awful drag where the motivation to finish and write this exciting stuff comes up against the knowledge that when I finish I have to do the part I hate. Two parts, in fact – type, and edit. They are inexorably joined and neither reside in my ‘YAY’ box. The typing will be my first pass at editing. Then I will edit more. Then I will start having those who helped shape the first book read. Then I will edit more. Then they will read it again. And I will edit again. Fun.

I think the story here in Book 2 is good. I want to get just a little (or hey, a lot) better with each book. I never want people to get into my books and say “Wow, this is really going downhill!” My main goal with the second book is maintain quality and improve the pacing as, fairly, more than one person has commented that Come the Shadows is a little slow in Act 1. I listen to fair criticism and always aim to improve. I’d like people to have to dig to find problems and debate nuance instead 😉

But to get there I have one thing in my way… and that darn editing thing is rearing it’s ugly head up again!

C’est la vie.

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When I am working on a book I have to be compulsive in my writing. I have to write every single day. I may only write 100 words one day, but as long as I keep it up I can keep the pace moving and not slack.

While editing the first book I didn’t do much writing. Some days I didn’t do much editing either.

Now the book is done, and 99.9% published and my attention can again return to writing.

That’s easier said than done.

For two months – April and May – I wrote every single day without fail. I would tally anywhere from 1 page to 15 pages (will explain later why I count pages instead of words) each day.

And then, while editing, I went two months with only edits and sporadic rewrites.

Now I must buckle down and write. I started book two with an outline as much for story as it was for delay. I could jot notes without actually having to craft the words and dialog. Thirty chapters in I knew delay was the only motivation left for it so I stopped.

That left me facing the task of writing a prologue. It describes events that occur about 80% through the story. I knew in advance I shouldn’t write it first but I tried anyway (after another day of delay). It was bad. It’s still there. It will be fixed later.

Chapter 1 was started, and interrupted by tech issues on Twitter (I promise, that makes sense). Last night was to be the completion of Chapter 1 and continuation in chapter two but the evening was entirely sucked dry by issues surrounding the full cover for the print version of novel one.

The point of this post is to wipe the slate clean. What’s done is done and what’s not done will be done. The daily writing goal is back, it’s in full force, and it will get done.

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