How an online editing course helped take my novel to the next stage
By Stella Soerensen, Edit Your Novel alumna
Having been on several writing courses over the last couple of years, I was looking for something that would move me on to the next stage with my novel. I had three aims in mind:
- I wanted editing skills I could use for myself and for future work, thereby cutting down on the cost of editing out-of-house.
- I wanted – indeed needed – very detailed feedback about my prose.
- I also thought that a solid editing course from a reputable company with a ‘what editors look for’ approach might help me in the world of publishing.
I studied the course details and saw that instead of repeating what I had learnt in many previous courses, this online course would allow me to look specifically at my prose in my book, teach me the skills I was looking for and at the same time move me onwards and upwards towards my aim of breaking into the publishing world. In brief, the course indicated that it would build on everything I’ve learnt and shape my novel into a better finished article for pitching at agents and for pre-publication.
And has it lived up to its promises?
Absolutely. So far, we’ve plotted in great detail the arc of our stories and superimposed onto that arc characters whose weaknesses and strengths we have been shown how to analyse. This is something I have not encountered in other groups I’ve attended.
We have drafted letters to agents using a template I had not met before and which I will file away for future reference.
We’ve had a couple of intense weeks on POV, with the tutor watching very carefully how we are doing and stepping in if we need help, redirecting us if we get lost in such a vast area. So far so very good.
Fundamental respect is given to the standard of writing on this course, with the assumption that work has been intelligently and carefully constructed. Cornerstones tutor Kathryn Price tries to understand and appreciate all the work we upload in each class. She and moderator Fiona Egglestone genuinely take the time to reach out to students, acknowledging the time and energy they have put into the writing. There isn’t the harsh criticism of the work presented that I have met on other courses (not, I hasten to add, with Faber Academy courses). No dismissal because of age or subject matter. What there is is positive criticism in its best possible form, suggesting ways to improve in this art form.
This acceptance allows me to write more confidently, which in turn improves the way I write. When Kathryn remarked ‘You have fulfilled the brief very well’ I thought yes! Someone appreciates how much time I am putting in to getting it right and how seriously I am taking this course. What’s more, I feel listened to.
It is so important that an online group gels – this depends on personality types, standards, commitment and so on. Cornerstones have done an excellent job of ensuring that the participants have a lot to gain from each other. My online group is supportive and constructive in its criticism. In other words, while they give positive feedback, it isn’t always just ‘good’ feedback: it does contain criticism, but it is couched in such a way (there are critiquing guidelines) that I feel I learn and want to continue. I will miss the group when the course finishes.
Range and genre
The range of literature we are working on as a group is very varied which on a personal note means I am not ‘stuck with’ a genre that perhaps is not my most favourite. I have been able to find other writers who appreciate my genre and whose genre I also like. That means when giving feedback I can draw on some background knowledge and don’t need to do extra work to research a genre I am not familiar with. We have two weeks for each intensive session and I need to devote most of that to just doing the exercises set and redrafting my novel to include what I’ve learnt.
Also – and perhaps for me more importantly – I find the tutor is taking seriously every type of genre we have on the course and is not dismissive of one over the other. It is such a relief after some of my experiences to find such care when, after all, the course does cost hard-earned money.
The level and quality of the course
I am always a little wary of online courses as I have planned and run them myself and know very well how they can go wrong. This course has had a lot of thought put into it and it demands a lot from those who take it, including that they have reached a certain standard. The cycle of Learn; Research into; Produce an example of own work; Receive feedback has a solid educational foundation.
Initially I felt a little over-whelmed, not having a master’s in creative writing like some of the other writers on the course, but I am discovering that the more I put in, the more I can take from the course materials. For example, each session has an extract from a book or books that illustrates the notes, videos, and webcasts for the session. The exercises set are directly relevant to the point of each session. What’s more, the final exercise in each class is directly geared to what the session has been teaching – there’s no straying off target or changing direction or being pulled up for an area that wasn’t pinpointed in that particular session.
Luckily, over my years of study I have on my shelves text books from various courses, so I can read around and go more in-depth if I have the time. If I stray off track, my tutor brings me or others back into the fold.
In terms of where I go within the publishing world, I feel that I am developing a solid grasp of what editing fiction involves. (Which is exactly what I wanted.) It has given me a step up so that while I’ve always enjoyed reviewing classmates’ work because you learn so much, I’m now beginning to think I could critically evaluate new books, and certainly new writers. The course is giving me such a depth of understanding of what editing fiction involves that I may even add these skills to my CV. Now, that can’t be bad, can it?