I’ve seen the question posed (in various forms) on social media sites that writers frequent. “I just finished writing my story. Can I send it ‘as is’ to my editor?” Or it might be something like, “How much editing do I need to do before I send my story to beta readers?” A writer may consider the story done when the last sentence is typed, but let’s explore some practical, cost-saving steps that are worth taking before handing off a finished story to anyone.
Proof, Proof, and Proof Again!
I run my stories through a gauntlet of proofing processes. After the initial spelling and grammar check (more about this a bit later), I do a search to see if a particular word has been used too many times. You may already have a suspect word, or you can read a few chapters and see if one pops up more than it should. (My characters tend to sigh a lot.) Now is a great time to find synonyms or re-structure a sentence to reduce the use of that word.
That grammar check I mentioned? Don’t believe it entirely. I’ve found instances where the grammar was correct, but the sentence didn’t make sense with the word I mis-typed or wrote by mistake.
The Find and Replace function is not always your best friend! Sure, it may replace what you intended, but it may also pull out parts of words and replace them with something that makes no sense at all. Sure, it’s tedious, but I use the Find function and go in, one-by-one, and check to ensure what I wrote was correct or change it. You may have other writing apps that help with word choices, so use what works best for you and will give you the most accurate results.
Hard Copy and Pen
I apologize to the trees (and vow to shred/recycle) as I wait for my story to be printed. I ask for two-sided to save paper, pull out my red pen, and settle in for multiple readings. The first time, I try to read through as if I’ve just purchased the book (I assume the role of reader). I want to see how the story flows, if I get hung up or bogged down, or if I have unanswered questions. Note them with that red pen, take a break, and begin again.
This time (you might want to change ink colors or use a highlighter), I look for sentence flow, length, and spelling or plot errors. You might find one of those grammar check corrections I mentioned earlier, and you may discover that in the first chapter your character had green eyes, but in chapter three you said they were blue. Your readers will call you out, so make sure your plot points and character traits are accurate and consistent.
Another read through might cover just chapter endings and beginnings. Are the endings compelling enough to make the reader want to turn the page? Are the beginnings where you want them to be? Sometimes a chapter beginning is a great place to let time pass and move the story along.
Back to the Screen
After multiple readings and markups, I go back to the computer and make my edits to the online version. As I’m doing this, I inevitably find other areas that need fixing–a better word choice or a re-write of a sentence, paragraph, etc.
The bottom line/what I’m trying to accomplish is to try and make my story as perfect as I can before handing it off to anyone. Sure, there will be edits to make after your beta readers and editor have a go at it–that’s to be expected. But the goal is to have the requested edits be about a plot point or feeling the story imparts rather than the fact that you mis-spelled fascination three times and didn’t bother correcting it. Spend your money wisely when using the time and talents of dedicated readers and editors by giving them your best version. Give them the best story you have at that point–they will appreciate the time and effort you invested. So will you.
Image credit: Anne K. Hawkinson