All right, with this process of polishing our work, we’ve smoothed out any plot holes or cases of vanishing characters and fixed awkwardly worded sentences. We’ve determined whether every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word are absolutely necessary to the story. We’ve also considered grammar, punctuation, and looked for redundancy. So what’s next? Is it finally time to send it on to someone else to read?
And yes, I heard you groan, but there’s one more thing you need to do—proofread. You can count on spellcheck for only so far, but you could have spelt the wrong word correctly. Say you wrote ‘strip’ when you meant ‘stripe’ or ‘strap’. Technically ‘strip’ is spelled correctly, so spellcheck can’t bring it to your attention because it doesn’t know it wasn’t the word you intended.
“Shouldn’t I have caught this when I went back to make sure every word was important to the story?” Yes, but there’s a chance you didn’t catch it because you weren’t looking for it, so that is why you must be patient and go back through it. It shouldn’t take nearly as long the revision and editing progresses did because you’re already done most of the heavy lifting.
Proofreading is also another opportunity to go back and look for any redundancy. You should have done this during the editing process, but it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for it as you’re reviewing your work once more.
One thing you must understand when polishing your work. Most of the mistakes you make will likely take place during the polishing process. For instance, let’s say you have the following sentence: “John went to the store.” But during the editing process, you realized you used John’s name too much in that paragraph, so you decided to just say ‘he’ instead of ‘John’, so you write what you think is, “He went to the store.” However, you didn’t realize it, but you never took out the word ‘John’, so what it really reads is, “John he went to the store.”
Once while polishing up my historical fiction novel, I had the phrase, ‘Saladin’s army’, and I decided to change it to ‘his army’ instead. However, I backspaced only enough to erase the ‘s from ‘Saladin’ and ended up with ‘Saladin his army’, and nobody caught this small error until after the book was published! If you’re wondering why there are reprints of books, this is one of the reasons. How did that happen? Why didn’t I completely erase Saladin’s name while I was working on the sentence? To be honest, I don’t know. I have no idea how it happened, but it makes me want to do a palmface whenever I catch such a mistake in my own writing. So this happens to everyone, and you need to recognize that and look for it in your own work.
Another thing that needs to be examined is the punctuation. When you’re editing, you might change a statement to a question, but both punctuation marks are present, “It rained last night.?” Or you had omitted a word from the end of the sentence and never brought in the punctuation, “It rained last night .” Or punctuation might be completely missing.
It’s amazing how when you’re trying to fix something, you can actually cause more problems. It’s not that your writing is terrible or that you’re a horrible writer. This is reality, so you just need to expect it and take it one step at a time.
Now throughout all this, I kept saying not to show anyone your work, but let me define something for you. It’s one thing to let someone read in order to get confirmation that your story is interesting and even worth the headache of revision, editing, and proofreading, and it’s another thing to let someone read your work in order to be critiqued. If along the way while polishing your work, you just need that extra encouragement, find a friend who loves to read but won’t overwhelm you with criticism, and let him or her read it. Try sending the person a chapter at a time, allowing the person to give you feedback on that specific chapter before moving on to the next one. This way you’re motivated to keep working, and you won’t overwhelm your reader with a 200-600 page novel in their email.
Hopefully these last few posts have solidified the concept of revision, editing, and proofreading. Of course, others may have developed their own system of doing these, and they’re not wrong. If it works for them, that’s good. I have simply discovered most people aren’t sure where to begin the refining process, so I decided to present a few guidelines. Modify it to what works best for you, but understand the importance of delivering a sharp, clean, and polished manuscript to editor, agents, and publishers. They will love you if you make their work easier by doing most of the hard work yourself, and I hope you the very best in that regard!
Next week we’ll discuss the etiquette of beta reading and more on getting feedback from others.