You’ve spent months or maybe years working on your book. You’ve organized it and reorganized it. You’ve read it and re-read it. You’ve given up on it at least once and come back. It’s become so much a part of your life that you don’t know what you’ll do without it.
Don’t worry. Just like a favorite son at his high school graduation, this is a major milestone, but the book is not ready to leave the nest. Enjoy the moment. Raise a glass to your accomplishment. Celebrate. Let the book rest while you revel in your feeling of satisfaction.
At least a week later, it is time to begin the long and often daunting task of editing. Edit is such a short word for the complexity of the process. It comes in steps and levels. The first level is self-editing. The first step of self-editing is to put your manuscript in whatever form you prefer to read for your own entertainment. Do you prefer paper? Then print your manuscript and read it on paper. Do you prefer ebooks? Send your document to your kindle or other ebook reader and read it there.
On your first step of reading, do not try to fix the mistakes. That will slow your reading and get you back into writer mode. Just highlight the problem. You might want a piece of paper or notebook nearby to jot down thoughts. Make your notes as short as you can.
Some basic things to notice:
- Physical characteristics of your characters. Do you introduce them with blue eyes? Then, make sure they still have blue eyes when they reappear in the last chapter.
- Time line. Make a rough time line and make sure you are consistent. If you back track in time, be careful to take the reader with you. If you have a skip forward, again, keep the reader with you. Have scene breaks whenever you move in time or place, and make sure your reader knows where and when you want him to land.
- Spelling and grammar. Run spell check and maybe even use a grammar checking software. Word has its own, Grammarly has a lot of fans, and ProWritingAid is also good. WARNING: None of these are perfect. You must check the recommendations and make sure you agree.
- Dialogue. It is ALWAYS a good idea to read your dialogue out loud. Does it flow naturally? Does the speaking style agree with the character who is saying it? Is it clear who is speaking? Make sure your attributions are correct and necessary.
- Don’t burden the reader with extra dialogue attributions.
- Don’t assume the reader can follow a three-way conversation just because you know who is talking.
- Don’t get fancy. This is not the place to show off your vocabulary or work out the thesaurus. “Said” becomes invisible to the reader. As much as it sounds repetitive to you, the reader virtually skips over the word and grabs the intent.
This is just the beginning. Each writer has his or her own order and process of self-editing, but every successful writer knows the first draft is just that—the first of many. Consult websites and books for other lists of things to check.
Always send the best manuscript you can to the next person to read it. If your editor is busy looking for the many typos and grammar errors, they won’t be seeing the big picture. Your carefully crafted plot and beloved characters won’t get the attention they deserve.
For a list of my favorite books on self-editing, see http://sandhbooks.com/resources/.
The next few blogs will focus on what happens next. Hope to see you soon.