When we last left our fledgling author, I was sitting in my chair petting my manuscript, which was still warm from the printer at Kinko’s. It’s been quite a week since then. First there was letting everyone know the first draft was finished, then there was the happy dance, then coffee, then another happy dance or three, or four. The first rule of project management milestones is to celebrate them, and finishing the draft was one hell of a milestone.
Then Monday came along. Blog post for Sunday completed (albeit a day late), it was time to get back to work. So what’s the best way to make this manuscript the best it can be before it goes to beta readers? Not a clue. Well, that’s not precisely true. I do know that reading aloud and a green pen are two essentials to start the process. Who knew it was politically incorrect to edit in red anymore? Red hurts people’s feelings? Seriously? I thought it was the ripping to shreds of your literary baby, not the color of the pen, but, industry best practices and all that, I bought a green pen.
But that’s not enough when you’ve spent three years of your life with a set of words and you now see them in your sleep and behind your eyelids when you blink. Being too close to something, as an esteemed author friend told me, can make you see what you want to see. That’s why, when you write a paper for school or work, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute if at all possible. I learned the hard way to finish at least three days ahead of schedule, especially on a longer paper, and then put the finished product in a drawer (or don’t open it on your computer). At the end of three days, after you’ve done other work, then pull it out and read it aloud. It’s not foolproof, but it does help freshen it up a bit.
When in doubt, ask an expert. First, I trolled (not internet trolls, troll as in the fishing term) WordPress for any blog entries on editing and skimmed through them. Then I asked questions. Many far more talented people than I have been here in this place. I asked those literary gods and goddesses what their preferences were. And I looked at things I’ve done in the past for work and school. So far, I’m about half way through the first edit, and I seem to have hit on a combination of the things that I’ve learned that work for me. Hopefully some of these will work for you too.
Save the document. Save it at least three times in three different places before changing a single comma. This keeps me safe in the eventuality that I really screw something during the editing process. I have mine on two flash drives and three separate devices. Having already corrupted the document once and had to retype the whole thing, I’m extra paranoid about saving things multiple times.
Print for editing. I’ve found that scrolling through text on the laptop tends to make me want to edit on the fly and change as I go. But although that does fix some errors, it’s hard to hold the whole book in your head at one time. For example, I’ve found that I use certain words a lot. My current favorites appear to be gingerly, mad, and ruefully. But on the laptop, by the time I realized this and started changing them with find and replace, I’d noticed other bits and pieces that randomly didn’t sound right out of context and started to play with them. In short I created other patterns and other messes. Darn good thing I saved it multiple times. Fortunately I was able to open one of those other copies and start again. So. No opening the document until one complete edit is done.
Print it out in a different font. Four out of five authors use Times New Roman to edit. Now that I’ve followed their advice, I’ve found that the shape of the letters is sufficiently different from the font I use to write in (Garamond), that my eyes pay more attention and don’t slip over the words as easily. This has helped me locate more grammatical and spelling errors.
Print it with white space. This made it a little pricier at the copy shop, but it was worth it. I used one and a half spaces between the lines and one inch margins. I can see my added commas and word changes much easier, and my eyes don’t get as tired.
Read it forward. Put the pen down. Just read the story. Even if you see something that feels odd or out of place, don’t touch the manuscript. Jot a note down on another piece of paper if you have to, but don’t touch anything. Read it as if you were picking up a book off the bookshelf written by someone else. See it through a reader’s eyes.
Edit backwards. Say what? Yes, I did say edit backwards. Start at the end of the book and read it backwards, sentence by sentence, green pen in hand. Sounds weird, but boy does it work. This has been the only way I’ve found that keeps me from getting sucked into the story and having that feature film of the action playing in my head. As soon as I get hooked, I zoom by spelling, grammar, and misused word errors (like saying his when you meant her) and get punch drunk remembering that I’ve finished a draft of a novel for the first time, rather than doing my job by perfecting that novel.
As I said, I’m only halfway through the process, and these are the things I’ve learned so far. I’ll keep you posted as I go. If any of you have any tips that might help, please post them in the comments. I want this book to be the best it can possibly be. See you next week!