Sigh. We struggle to produce as clean a manuscript as we can, and still we may have typos and grammatical errors that slip through.
Today I wanted to talk about editing your own work. We all have to do it, and we have varying degrees of success! In the morning I am better at editing than I am in the evening, because I am a morning person. I tend to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and that is my best time of the day. Most of my blogging and the business side of writing I try to get done in the morning because I am at my best then. Afternoons and evenings are my best times to write.
My first line of attack is to have either my friend Jean or my sister Sherrie read the manuscript. They read the same sorts of tales that I do, so they will give my work a good once-over. I try to send them small chunks of the tale, nothing longer than 5000 to 6000 words at a time.
They highlight typos and grammatical errors with yellow, and make comments as needed. They also answer a list of five questions, each of which I desperately want the answers to, so that I will know if I am going in the right direction. These questions are from the article in ‘Writer’s Digest Guide to Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy’ by Orson Scott Card, a brilliant author in his own right.
1. Were you ever bored? Tell me where it got slow.
2. What did you think of the main character? Of the others?
3. Was there any section where you became confused? What did you have to read twice?
4. Was there any place where the story became unbelievable?
5. What do you think will happen to the characters now?
The way my beta-readers answer these questions determines the way I continue with my story. After all, I am writing for others’ pleasure, not just for my own gratification. Even if their responses tell me things that I don’t want to hear, I heed them because I want to turn out a good story and their input is my best tool for that. So in this case, bad news is good news, because I can still rectify the problem.
One really good thing to do with a manuscript if you do not have someone else to read it for you is to set it aside for a month or so and then come back to it with fresh eyes. I guarantee that you will find many things, but you will also still miss some things.
A lot of the problems occurring with self- editing are because we use word-processing programs nowadays, and they are notorious for allowing sentences and paragraphs with glaring issues to pass their spell check. This is because the word that is wrong is actually a word; it is just not the word you wanted to use in that place or context.
Thus a sentence that should have read, “As a journeyman Zan did have his own bachelor apartment but frequently found himself sleeping in his old room at his parent’s home many nights anyway” was actually changed by Word to read, “As a journeyman Zan did have his own bachelor apartment but frequently found he sleeping in his old room at his parent’s home many nights anyway.” Word does not like the words ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ used in that context for whatever reason, and will always want you to change it. Even as I was writing this, Word wanted to change ‘herself’ to ‘she’! Word does not understand context!
It is a small change, but it makes a huge difference and it is an error that is hard to notice when you are trying to edit your own work.
Also we do things like copying and pasting, and sometimes a small thing goes awry in that process, something that you simply do not see no matter how many times you look at it. Even the big publishing houses are putting out products with proofing and editing issues, and I know that they try terribly hard to not let these things slip through.
Some of my writing friends will urge you to dump Word and switch to OpenOffice. I have used both programs, and like them both. For an author, there are problems inherent in both programs, which quickly become apparent as you use them. WE have to be the final arbiter when it comes to our own manuscripts, cleaning them as well as we can BEFORE submitting them to a contest, or a publisher or a prospective agent. Even when you have an editor, that editor often changes your manuscript in ways that you did not intend, thus changing the meaning of your words; all the while thinking that they are making it more clear. And, at times, they too will miss typos and grammatical errors.
That is one of the curses of being an author, but the joys of seeing your work in print outweigh the struggles, by far.