I finished the first draft of my current novel "Seeds of Salton" in two years, writing and working at a steady, sometimes-frenzied pace, all while keeping up with my home and part-time day-job. When I finished the last chapter this spring and read through the entire 356 pages I found myself face-to-face with the same question a lot of writers do: How do I turn this draft into a polished manuscript that I can present to agents or editors?
Like many I turned to the Internet to research my options, reading agent blogs and writers websites. I knew first-hand that writers conferences hold a wealth of helpful resources. In 2007 and 2008 I attended the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, but I lacked the time and money to get to another one this fall. There were numerous editors-for-hire all over the web, but who could I trust?
To start, I turned to a writer friend who recommended editor and author Susanne Lakin in California. I contacted Susanne and we "hit it off" right from the start. I hired her to do a content edit of the manuscript, which she promptly did. She responded with many positive things to say about my writing and the manuscript, which gave me an enormous boost of confidence. In her eight-page critique she outlined my weaknesses in the premise and story arch. More importantly though, she offered suggestions on how to strengthen the manuscript in a way that made sense to me.
In the midst of working with Susanne, I attended "Story Mastery" with Michael Hauge, presented by the Midwest Fiction Writers & Screenwriters of Minnesota right near my home in Minneapolis. Michael's handouts included Key Story Component Breakdowns and a Six-Stage Plot Structure worksheet--exactly what I needed to fine-tune my own plot structure. What hit me even deeper, however, was how he presented the protagonist's character arch through "Identity and Essence" and the tug of war between the two.
Susanne Lakin also suggested I purchase the CD set for a seminar taught by T. Davis Bunn at the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference in 2009, titled "Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level," another wonderful seminar about story arch and character development. By this time everything began to "click" and I had a much clearer understanding of premise, tone, voice, and character development.
And then came the fun part! I did my best to take all these news helps and apply them to my manuscript. These past few weeks I've had a ball putting all that I've learned into action. I've cut pages, tightened paragraphs, and rewritten several scenes like there's no tomorrow. The pay-off is a much improved manuscript and a newly instilled confidence to go with it. I still plan to attend a national writer's conference this winter, but for now I am thankful for the opportunities that have crossed my path without having to leave home.
It's rewarding and uplifting to have people like Susanne, Michael and Davis who are willing to share their expertise with those of us on this journey to publication. Thank you, thank you!