You’ve finally finished your manuscript, novella, or short story. Whether it’s your first completed manuscript or your fortieth, it’s still a major accomplishment. After all, even prolific author, Nora Roberts, admits that after writing more than 200 book, writing is still hard.
So give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, have a glass of wine, maybe get a massage. You deserve a reward.
So what’s next?
Right now you’re experiencing a celebratory haze. But don’t let it make you do something crazy, like sending your manuscript off to an agent or editor (or even your critique group) before you self-edit.
Your completed opus feels like the most brilliant words ever penned. Perhaps it is. But it’s not as good as it can be. There are several steps that will take your novel from hardened coal to the shiny, brilliant diamond it was meant to be. The first step along that road is self-editing.
Why not just send it to your critique group? After all, isn’t that what they’re there for, to ‘fix’ your novel?
We’re all busy writing, and perhaps, dealing with a day job and other obligations. Make the critique process as easy as possible for fellow group members.
Don’t waste the group’s time with common spelling and grammar errors and other mistakes that could easily be caught by giving the manuscript a thorough review.
Take a Step Back
Whenever possible, take a step away from your manuscript before you begin editing. During the creative process you’ve lived the lives of your characters and gotten so close to the story it’s practically part of you.
You’re in no position to be objective about the story.
Take a step back and allow some distance between you and the story you’ve worked on for weeks, months, perhaps even years. Doing so will allow you to look at the story with fresh eyes.
View the Story as a Reader, Not the Writer
Even allowing some distance between us and our work will not completely cure us of our attachment to the story. It will take tremendous effort, but view your work as a reader would. Try to be objective.
- Does my introduction grab readers?
- Am I compelled to keep turning the page?
- Are there holes in my plot?
- Is my characters acting logically, or at least in manner that fits her established personality?
- Is what I’m proposing physically possible? (Important when considering fight and sex scenes.)
If a scene, or dialogue, is completely implausible, don’t try to justify it. Fix it.
Show Us. Don’t Tell Us.
Every writer is familiar with the axiom above. But it can be difficult to recognize when we aren’t doing this in our own work. Study human emotions and the body language we display in harmony those emotions.
As you read each passage in your story, consider whether you are telling us or showing us.
Mary was angry.
Mary clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes at Jason. Who did he think he was?
Use Stronger Verbs
You want to show, not tell, without increasing your word count, as we did in the example above. No problem. Use specific nouns and strong verbs to help the reader get inside the story.
“You make me sick,” Mary said, angrily.
“You make me sick,” she spat.
Rather than just saying a character walked across the room tell us she ambled or shuffled across the floor. If the character is angry, as Mary obviously is, she could stalk, stamp, or storm out of the room. This gives readers a stronger sense of how the character feels and pulls them inside your story.
There are a variety of tendencies we should look for in our writing before we ever consider sending it off to an agent or publisher. On Thursday, we’ll discuss a few more of these and recommend an excellent resource to help writers self-edit our manuscripts before we send them out into the world. Subscribe via email at the top of the right sidebar, or in the box in the lower right corner to have the next post delivered directly to your inbox.
What’s your favorite self-editing recommendation? Tell us in the comments below.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Greg.Turner.