The overwhelming answer was a resounding “Yes!”
I am an editor but I always have my final manuscript edited by a professional editor, and I get a final proofread by members of my writing support group before I hit the publish button. As authors, we never see all our own mistakes although we catch many. We see what we intended to write rather than what is written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row. Our brain fills in the missing words and doesn’t notice when we use ‘its’ rather than ‘it’s,’ or ‘their’ rather than ‘they’re’ or ‘there.’
Also, we tend to overlook clumsy and inadvertently awkward phrasing.
- Her eyes rolled over her host’s attire.
- Delicious sounds assaulted his eardrums.
We overlook little things like those examples in our own work because we are visualizing the scene as we read it, and to us, they convey what we are thinking. We can’t see our own work with an unbiased eye, any more than we can see our children with an unbiased eye.
If you are unable to afford a full edit, and they are not cheap, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming. If you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.
To do a thorough revision of your manuscript:
- Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
- Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
- Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
- With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
- Look for
- Missing quotation marks,
- Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.
Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.
Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”
- Words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word – there-their-they’re, etc.
- Look up “comma splice” and eliminate them from your manuscript.
- Remove repetitions of entire ideas. If you explained it once, that was probably all you needed.
- Check for repetitious use of certain key words and phrasing.
- Eliminate all timid phrasing and remove unnecessary words. That and very are two words that can often be cut and not replaced with anything. Often cutting them makes a sentence stronger.
An editor points out and encourages you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.
To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.
- Open your manuscript on your computer and make your corrections.
- Repeat these steps with every chapter.
If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.
In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.
Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.
Editors do more than point out comma errors–they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions. They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.
The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to!
Be aware that it is not an edit if you have done it yourself–it is only a deep revision. The best we can do with our own work is to keep revising it until it is as clean as we can make it. (See my article of June 20, 2018 – Thoughts on Revisions and Self-editing.) Only an external eye can see our work with an unbiased eye and properly edit it. But with diligence and the assistance of your critique group, it is possible to make good revisions yourself and you can turn out an acceptable book that a casual reader will enjoy.
I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.