Having decided on a publication strategy, morphing my 330,000 word novel into a trilogy, I am once again in the throes of editing, reviewing, and revising. I have three main goals in this process. My first goal is to wind up with tight, concise, well crafted story. My second goal is to ensure my text is grammatically correct and technically accurate. This second goal includes making sure historical references are consistent and the science is good. My third goal is to end up with a word count in the neighborhood of 80,000 words.
Editing is essential to the production of a quality product. Dropped words, misspellings, poor grammar are unacceptable, but are also inevitable. Spell check will catch most common misspellings. Grammar check will catch many of the common grammatical errors. The problem is that neither is particularly reliable in terms of context. That is, when words or phrases are used in a particular way. Another problem checkers have is with foreign words and new or newly made-up words. Someday there may be an automated contextually-sensitive discovery-focused checker, but it’s not here yet. Or is it?
Well, the checker isn’t automated, but most sites and books about writing say you’ve got to have one, a professional editor. I agree, but the problem is that an editor, unless you can either afford to hire one or have some other source of editorial support, is, for the first novel at least, an asset I’ll have to put in the same category as other support staff such as a research assistant, a gardener, a cook, or a maid. In their own way any or all of these would be essential to supporting the writing effort by relieving the writer of the day to day tasks that separate him/her from the most essential task, writing.
Hiring anyone as support also has to pass the “mom test”, you know, it’s what your mom said when you just had to have that guitar and just couldn’t live without it because you and your friends were going to start that band. When your mom asked if you were going to keep with it and really practice you assured her that you would and the guitar was really an investment in the future? But when you began taking lessons and the instructor started you on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” instead of “Stairway to Heaven” and there was all that practice instead of just performing and writing songs, the guitar went into the closet and then into the attic.
For the “mom test” you can substitute the “wife test” or whatever. Hopefully there is someone who can see up the road a bit when enthusiasm over rides the cold logic of a cost benefit analysis. I’ve been there and done that on all counts and know myself too well to think that publication, much less success, is a sure thing. Even this late in the process it could turn out to be just another fantasy. Gosh, just writing for the blog takes up so much time, but it is a creative outlet and I enjoy it. Maybe the blog is enough to keep me satisfied. It’s easy to get distracted.
Okay so, if not an editor, then what. Just reading over stuff doesn’t work. Typically you’re too close to it. It does help to set the work aside for six months. By then, if you’ve continued to write other stories or at least have a life in the meantime, upon reading it again the work may take on new meaning. My technique for self-editing is to slowly, carefully read every sentence aloud. Hearing the words helps. It also makes it easier to detect the flow and cadence of the writing. Hearing also helps to break the mind’s natural instinct to automatically fill in a missing word or correct a misspelling. See it, speak it, hear it, and fix it.
To help with consistency, I maintain a rather detailed Excel workbook which consists of several spreadsheets. For instance, one spreadsheet lists all the characters and a description of how they fit into the plot. Another spreadsheet lists all the geographic locations mentioned and what events occurred there. A third spreadsheet is a timeline of events to make sure everything remains in sequence. A fourth spreadsheet lists unique or unusual vocabulary, such as historical/scientific terms, regional patois, foreign words, or newly made-up words.
Finally, location, location, location. You need to find somewhere isolated and without distractions. The ideal location is an office with a closed door, no TV, no radio. I’d like to say no internet, but the internet has become an essential research tool. I just can’t bring myself to page through an outdated dictionary when the OED is only a click away. The problem is that everything else is also only a click away. Only self-discipline and focus will keep you on task. The other thing I like to do is to put on headphones and listen to music I am so completely familiar and comfortable with that I can tune it out and it only acts either as inspiration or white noise. As much as I like it, I can’t listen to Pandora because new music will be presented and I end up listening to that rather than concentrating on my editing.
Well, this post has turned out to be a little lengthier than I originally intended, but I hope you’ve kept with me and you’ve found some of my thoughts useful. In my next post, I’ll continue with some more thoughts about editing, reviewing, and revising as we continue this fascinating process of getting published.
If you have any comments about this or any of my posts, please feel free to click the comment link and let me know what’s on your mind.