Writing is a Process
No one turns out a good book without going through the blood, sweat, and tears of revision. Even the Literary Great Ones do the nitty-gritty work. I love this quote attributed to Samuel Johnson (and also to Mark Twain and probably Abraham Lincoln as well):
“I did not have time to write you a short letter,
so I wrote you a long one instead.”
He is apologizing for making his reader wade through too much clutter because he hadn’t revised the letter. How much more important revision is for a novel. During the eighteen years I worked (off and on) on my first book Time and Again I made many improvements. And I proofread it innumerable times. So when I got the paperback proof from my publisher I was sure there would be few if any errors to correct and I could send it on its way to the printer right away. But even at that late stage of the process there were typos and inaccuracies in it.
My sister, bless her eagle eyes, found over twenty. There were minor typos like extra spaces between words. And I have a nasty habit of leaving end quotes off dialogue. There were also content errors. For example, I wrote that Lincoln was campaigning for the “state” senate. I have no idea how I missed that error for so long. Of course it was the U.S. Senate he ran for (and lost).
Part of the problem was that I needed more eyes looking at my manuscript to critique the content–the ideas, character motivation, word choice, etc. BEFORE I turned it over to my publishing company’s editorial staff. For some strange reason, the publisher sent the manuscript right off to be proofread BEFORE sending it to the content editor. When the content editor did receive the manuscript he came up with lots of wonderful ideas for revisions. I implemented many of them, adding whole passages to the story, and the word count actually increased by at least 10%. The trouble is, every time you add more content you run the risk of introducing more errors. Unfortunately, even with all those revisions, my publisher didn’t send the manuscript back to proofreading.
They just relied on me to get it right. And I’m terrible at proofreading. My eyes always gloss right over typos as if they aren’t there. I know what it’s supposed to say, and by golly that’s what it does say. This is a problem for most writers. We’ve been working on our stories so long we’re blind to errors.
So guess what? There were still typos in the finished book. Sigh. It just about broke my heart when I found the first one. I’m trying to get over it, to be glad for what I learned from the experience.
My editing process was a lot different with book two. I got more friends and relatives to read the “finished” manuscript of Unclaimed Legacy. I subscribed to a free online critique service called Scribophile and there got feedback from other authors struggling with the same process. And only after I had made all the revisions that were generated by their comments (and lots more that their ideas sparked in my own brain) did I turn it over to my daughter to proofread. She is really, really good at this. I should receive the edited manuscript sometime this week. It will be interesting to see how many errors she found.
My Advice to Aspiring Writers
Schedule time for editing. It’s not the “funnest” part of writing, but it is an essential part of the process. You might as well plan on spending a bunch of time on it—sometimes equal to the time spent actually composing. And while you’re agonizing over it, take time to be thankful for word processing and the ability to cut and paste so easily. There’s really no excuse for not polishing your manuscript.You might even spend a moment thinking of the authors of yore who wrote the classics by hand. Go ahead and tip your imaginary hat to your favorite author.
And then when you can’t stand looking at your manuscript any more, have someone who is good at proofreading go over it one last time. Even if you have to pay them to do it.
It would be so nice of you to share!