You did it! You completed an amazing writing journey, and you’ve got something you’re proud of and excited about–a novel, short story, memoir, etc. After long (endless?) hours of writing, tears of frustration, and feelings of self-doubt, you finally typed those last, two words–The End. Before you whisk it off to your editor, consider these suggestions to put it in the best possible shape before handing it off.
The Hiding Obvious
You’ve done the spell/grammar check that comes with whatever program you’re using, right? That’s all well and good, but there are words that can hide in plain sight and derail your manuscript. For example, if you meant to use the word “event” and instead typed “even,” it may not pop up as an error. I found this in my manuscript; I’d just sent my character to a special even, not an event. After you’ve done all that you can on the computer, I’d suggest printing out a hard copy and reading through it. You’ll be surprised at what you find when you move from screen to paper. (Apologies to the trees! I had it printed on both sides of the paper, and I’ll recycle it.)
Read It Aloud
Once you’ve gone through with a red pen in hand and made edits on the main draft, read the entire manuscript out loud. Find a quiet spot, and have a water bottle at the ready. You’ll probably find more errors (punctuation, grammar, etc.), and you’ll also find passages that you (as the reader) stumble over or some that just don’t flow like they should. Perhaps replacing a word or phrase, or a re-write of the entire sentence/paragraph is in order. Do things make sense? If your character made dinner on page 15, why are they cooking the same dinner on page 17? Sometimes cutting and pasting scenes or passages is the culprit, but reading aloud will help you find and correct them.
After you make the edits to your main document, perhaps another, quiet read is in order. I read from my hard copy again to avoid printing out another, entire copy (respect for the trees). Perhaps only print out those pages that had major edits so you can read them and see how they flow. Look for things like dates and names. If dates are critical, are they consistent and logical throughout the story? Did things happen in the right order? What about names? I try to keep names distinct and avoid those that sound like another or even start with the same letter. That’s just me and my way of helping the reader place all of the characters squarely in their mind. You may have another way of naming the characters that will populate the world of your story. Do whatever works for you and your story.
I am always amazed at the number of things I find at this stage of the editing process. At this point, I’ve probably read my entire manuscript four to five times, and I’m still finding things to correct or re-write. Errors aside, I’d probably find things to tweak and change with every reading. At some point, I have to call it done. So, once you’ve corrected everything you can find and smoothed out those clunky spots, hand it off to your editor with a sigh of relief. You’ve done your due diligence and given them the best draft that you can. As you hand off your manuscript with a smile, know that your editor will inevitably find things you missed.