The most crucial point along the road from blank page to published page is the one many writers devote little time to. Sometimes we put so much time and energy into our writing that we don’t have much of ourselves left over when we’re done. And yet what we do with our work at that point can make all the difference between turning in a firecracker or a dud. Sure, an editor will refine your manuscript after it’s been accepted, but I recommend making it shine before you even send it in. Polish before you publish!
Here are several tips on how to do that:
Don’t copy edit just yet. Some writers like to edit while they write while others like to put all their thoughts down first and then go back and edit. Both these methods are perfectly valid. However, if you are the edit-as-you-go type of writer, do not copy edit until after your piece is finished; first work on content and style otherwise you will waste time correcting sentences or paragraphs that you might later delete.
Relax your grip. When self-editing, put aside any affection you have for your manuscript. Don’t fall into the trap of keeping a sentence or paragraph just because you think it’s brilliant or it took you hours to come up with. If it doesn’t fit in, take it out. Read your work with the eyes and ears of a stranger. Try reading your work out loud to catch any awkwardness.
Fact-check. Then double-check your fact-checking. Magazines and book publishers tend to not be happy if they find out they published wrong information. Save everyone embarrassment and frustration by checking numbers, geography, name spellings, titles, dates, references, etc. Be consistent with figures (i.e. don’t switch between imperial and metric measurements).
Eliminate weak writing. Common foibles include:
- Meaningless, redundant, ambiguous or superfluous phrases, as well as oxymorons and clichés. For example:
- Meaningless: “At this point in time.” Just say “now.”
- Redundant: “Catastrophic disaster,” “close proximity” and “plan in advance.”
- Ambiguous: “Child killers should be locked up.” Are you talking about children who kill or people who kill children?
- Superfluous: “He shrugged his shoulders” or “He shook his head.” Only shoulders can shrug and only heads can nod.
- Oxymorons: “Intense apathy” or “definite possibility.”
- Clichés: Just avoid them like the plague, okay?
- Passive verbs. Make verbs active whenever possible. Your sentences should have a do-er and not only a do-ee. Also, strengthen your verbs. Look for words that end in “ance”, “age”, “ment”, etc., drop the suffixes and go for the root verb (e.g. “entered” instead of “gained entrance”).
- Switching between tenses.
- Unnecessary repetition. If you’ve already described your character’s appearance, don’t do it again. Your reader will not have forgotten.
- Telling and explaining instead of showing. Show a character’s emotions by his actions instead of telling the reader how he feels or relying on adjectives. Instead of “Roger was very, very angry,” you could say, “Roger slammed his palm onto the table. The coffee mug fell off the edge and shattered. He didn’t notice.” However, don’t dramatize more than you have to.
- Equating verbs. Even when active, they do nothing except turn the action into a noun. For example: “This action is a denial of human rights” vs. “This action denies human rights.”
Check your dialogue mechanics. Use verbs that get your point across without needing an adverb. Also, use “said” whenever possible because it fades into the background and is less jarring to the reader. Remember that people cannot snort, laugh or grimace words.
Watch your sentence and paragraph lengths. If a sentence takes up more than two lines of type, shorten it. It should not contain more than one idea. Express the central idea first. If necessary, use separate sentences to include other significant points. Paragraphs are visual punctuation. Your paragraphs should not look bigger than a hamburger. Don’t make them too short or too long and try to vary their lengths to avoid monotony.
Now copy edit. Be meticulous, looking for grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors with a fine-tooth comb. No, seriously… Just be meticulous.
When you’ve spit-shined your masterpiece until you can see your reflection smiling back at you, take a deep breath and hit “Send.” Then go read today’s comics. You deserve a break!
Connect with Ann-Margret at www.facebook.com/ann.hovsepian.author.