We can all recall that magical moment when we typed the last words of our manuscript and lovingly glanced at the neatly piled pages on the desk. Head over heels in love, we could easily visualize literary agents and publishers emailing us within hours of receiving the manuscript.
That is the fantasy.
The reality is very different.
That first draft is never ready for publication. Some manuscripts require major surgeries such as changing POV and adding more sub-plots and characters. Longer manuscripts with over 100K words may need to be pared down. All manuscripts need to be checked for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
At a workshop, creative writing professor Brian Henry suggested we put our manuscripts aside for a while before starting the editing process. He did not specify a timeline but stressed the fact that we cannot improve our work until we fall out of love with it.
• Perform a spelling and grammar check using the appropriate feature in your word processing program. Be aware that your spell checker can tell you only if a word exists, not if it’s the right word. If you are uncertain, refer to a dictionary.
• Use the Search and Replace function to find and eliminate repetitive words and extra spaces. To cut back on the number of adverbs, search for “ly” and replace with “LY.” As you approach each highlighted section, decide whether to keep the adverb, eliminate it, or replace it with an appropriate action tag.
• Double-check all facts, figures, and proper names. This is especially important if you write nonfiction or historical fiction.
• Print out your text and review it line by line. Use a ruler or a blank sheet of paper to keep your focus on one line at a time.
• Read your text aloud. This will help catch missing prepositions, repetition, run on sentences, and awkward phrasing.
• Read your text backward, from right to left, starting with the last word. While I have never used this particular tip, several English teachers recommend this method for anyone struggling with spelling.
• Change the font and font size before the final edit. The altered appearance may help you see the manuscript with fresh eyes.
• Ask a friend or fellow author to proofread your text. And offer to return the favor.
Quips via Brian Henry
• If you revise the same page too many times, you are probably ignoring a major problem in your book.
• When the characters start misbehaving, don’t get rid of them. Go with the flow and make the appropriate changes.
• Write with passion, revise at leisure.
• Puke it out, mop it up.