Keeping a Creative Journal

Last year, I decided to publish three YA novels under a pseudonym. Prior to publishing, I asked a skilled friend of mine to proofread each manuscript. After I had read through their comments and mark-ups, I complimented them on their editing skills. This is when my critique partner suggested that I start keeping a creative writing journal.

I love reflecting on the creative process (hence this blog!) and I’m already an active journal writer (it frightens me how quickly we forget things!), so I was instantly intrigued and wanted to know more. ‘Why do you say that?’ I asked.

My critique partner then informed me that the volume of suggested corrections varied widely throughout the manuscript. Apparently, they would read through several pages without noting a single error only to then find three error on one page. I confessed that I too noted this pattern during my revisions and had chalked the errors up to ‘bad writing days.’

A creative writing journal is a good place to record your daily word count and hours spent writing, but more importantly, it is a place where you can reflect on your creative process. Journal entries are a way to document how you feel about the day’s writing session. Did the words come easily? Did the story go in a direction you hadn’t expected? How do you feel about what you have written?

I’m a daily writer. I find it easy to slowly chip away at a project day-after-day rather than binge write for 8-10 hours every now and then. I enjoy the sense of daily progress and the satisfaction of crossing things off my to-do list. So, I write every day – whether I feel like it or not. (*Insert obvious disclaimer. Life happens. Some days I don’t write because events outside of my control prevent me from doing so).

Here’s the thing though, I can’t help but believe that the pages clustered with typos and errors were written, revised or edited on days when I didn’t want to write. Days when I was tired, unmotivated, distracted or pressed for time. Days where I chose to white knuckle through my writing session rather than take the day off.

Of course, those typos and errors could have just as easily been made on days when I was struck with inspiration. Days when the words came quicker than my fingers could type them. Days when I hurried to get the story down before it had a chance to escape me.

The problem is, I have no idea whether those typos ridden pages were written on ‘bad’ days or ‘good’ days. Keeping a creative journal would allow me to identify the correlations between the quality of the writing and my mood, mental clarity and energy. If a pattern was pinpointed, then I would know which sections of the manuscript would require further – or more careful – editing/revisions prior to sharing them with others.

Using beta readers, critique partners and professional editors will certainly assist in the correcting of errors, but personally, I would like my manuscript to be as clean as possible before I share it with others. Typos are distracting. If I’ve asked my beta readers or critique partners to read my manuscript and to provide thoughtful feedback, I’d hate for them to spend that time marking up typos rather than reflecting on the quality of the manuscript.

Even if a particular pattern is not identified, a creative journal could provide further insight into my own creative process. This, in itself, is reason enough for me. Obviously, this is a new practice for me, and if this tool proves useful, I’ll certainly write a follow-up blog. But for now, I’d love to hear from you! Do you keep a creative writing journal? If so, what do you record? How has maintaining a creative journal assisted your process?

The Professional Edit

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Writing is not a solitary task but a collaborative effort. The first draft (and several after) may be crafted with the door to your office firmly closed, but eventually, you will need to let others in. The feedback, critiques and advice from other writers, readers and professionals can help us to see the flaws in our work, such as excessive use of filter words, repetitive phrases, redundant sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete character/story arcs.  Novels contain multiple moving parts, so it’s easy for a writer to make a mistake. This is why editors exist: to help writers turn good stories into great stories.

If you are fortunate enough to get a deal with a traditional publishing house, then your manuscript will go through multiple rounds of editing. If you are interested in self-publishing, then I urge you to have your manuscript edited. Readers are savvy. They don’t want to pay $2.99 for a novel that is actually a first draft. Readers want good stories and if you are a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are putting forward the best, most professional content that you can. That means you need to get your work to an editor.

However, before you go sending your manuscript off to the first person you find online, it’s important that you understand the different types of editing available. And by the way, if you are serious about being a writer then you should hire a professional editor for the following three processes: structural/developmental edit, copyedit and proofread. You may have to hire different editors for all three stages, or you may find an editor who offers all three.

A word of advice, if you hire an editor to do the structural/developmental edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor to do the final proofread. Why? If an editor has performed both the structural and copy edit on your manuscript, they may miss errors/typos during the proofreading stage because they have become overly familiar with the work.

Structural/Developmental Editing

Structural editing focuses intensely on the novels core drive: character and plot. Typically, a structural editor will read your entire manuscript while taking careful note of how each element of the story is working. They will analyse your work for consistency, believability and effectiveness with a particular focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

Some structural editors may also provide feedback regarding the manuscripts potential target audience and its overall marketability.

Structural editors will provide a report that analyses the quality of your manuscript. This may take the form of a letter that discusses the manuscript as a whole, or they may provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Either way, this report should identify:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Lack of tension
  • Pacing issues
  • Irrelevant characters, scenes or plot development
  • Believability of characters
  • Whether the work is engaging
  • Areas of confusion, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy.

Structural edits do not focus on the manuscript on a line level (sentence-by-sentence). Instead, it is looking at the bigger picture and how the novel hangs together. For this reason, the structural edit should be the first round of editing your manuscript goes through.

Copyediting

Copyediting, or what some call line level editing, focuses on the manuscript on a sentence-by-sentence level. Here, editors are looking for problems regarding:

  • Grammar
  • Style
  • Repetition
  • Word usage
  • Jargon
  • Filter words
  • Dialogue
  • Unclear character motivations.

The copyediting phase should not occur until after the structural edit has been completed. There is no point in fixing an entire scene, sentence-by-sentence, only to have that scene deleted because it isn’t furthering the plot. These types of edits typically occur as in-document critiques using track changes. 

Proofreading

Once all the large structural issues with your manuscript have been fixed and you’ve carefully examined every sentence for clarity and quality, you can then move on to the final round of editing: the proofread. Like I said earlier, if you used the same editor for the structural edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor (someone unfamiliar with your work) to do the proofread. It never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes—especially when it comes to editing! Proofreading is the lightest form of editing as it focuses on minor errors such as:

  • Grammar and style (e.g., tense, measuring units, consistency with numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
  • Capitalisation and punctuation (e.g., correct usage of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes and apostrophes)
  • Spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect).

You may be tempted to skip the proofreading stage, but please don’t. You’ve already put so much work into polishing and editing your manuscript, the last thing you want is to receive an email from a reader highlighting all the typos and errors that were missed during the copyediting phase.

Critiques

Critiques are not a part of the editing process, but they can be tremendously useful. You can pay a professional to critique your manuscript (I offer such services), or you can approach other readers or writers who may be willing to critique your work for free. Critiques focus on the major issues in your manuscript and a good critique should focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

You can have a critique partner provide feedback of your manuscript as a whole, or you can ask them to provide chapter-by-chapter reports that focus on elements such as:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Point of View Issue
  • Dialogue
  • Description (too much or too little)
  • Areas of confusions, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy
  • Sensitive/ethical issues or anything else that may harm your chances of publication.

Before you hire a structural editor or look for a professional critique, it would be wise to exhaust all free resources at your disposal, this includes beta readers, critique groups and critique partners. That way, your manuscript is in the best condition is can be before you invest in professional feedback.

Editing a manuscript can be hard work, but if you find an editor you ‘click’ with then this collaborative effort can be deeply rewarding.

If you have a short story, novella or novel that you believe could benefit from a professional critique, you can find my list of services here.