After months or years working on your manuscript you are suddenly confronted with the reality that it’s done, finished, “It’s in the can.” But more than likely your thoughts are: “I can’t stand to look at this thing anymore; I really do need to find a life.” There it sits, either in piles of handwritten and rewritten pages (today that’s doubtful, but there are a few old schoolers who love the pen), or on numerous versions of dated files in a folder in the hard drive in the prison that is your writing sanctuary. The big issue now is how to move it from final draft to edited final.
I won’t go into the story draft and redraft issue now, that’s for another long conversation over drinks. For the purposes of this exercise I will pretend that you have a completed story, you love it, and you know that the world will just love it too. I suggest that you start with your mother and work outward.
This is how, after six books, I attack the bloody thing.
- After six weeks reread draft in different format.
- Print a paper copy of draft.
- Read out loud and mark up paper version.
- Edit computer file based on paper version.
- Reprint paper version – different font – do the above over.
- Do a technical edit looking for typos, misspellings, punctuation.
- Final read
- Send to editor.
- Drink heavily.
Did I Really Write That?
Obviously after I have placed numerous copies of the draft manuscript in various bomb and radiation proof locals (memory sticks in a safe deposit box work well too), I re-title a copy of the file. Example: EditVerA-TitleDate, such as ‘EditVerA-12thMan7-11-12. I know it’s long but with each succeeding edit you can change the VerA to VerB and move on. The date helps to fix that particular version you are working on, capice? From now on you will continually update the file by saving it to a new file name, don’t rely on just the last opened and saved date in the finder, sometimes when you go to find a lost bit of text or thought in another file, the date changes, try to keep everything logical. Use a different naming format? That’s up to you, just don’t keep beating up the same file, it will come back to bite you at some point.
Everyone says that you need to let the manuscript rest. I agree. It should get out of your head. Start a new story, read more, ignore the thing like it was that chunk of cheese that got pushed to the back of the frig. Don’t touch it; try not to think about it. It calls, refuse it. Then, maybe six to eight weeks later, you take this Edit Version A and email to yourself. Then go to your iPad or other mobile device, open the file (I use the App Pages) and then read it as fast as possible. Ignore the obvious typos, the missing quotes, and other mistakes (do not take notes). You will quickly notice the flow, the pacing, and the style. If you’re excited then move on to the next stage, if not, go back to the story draft and fix it. I realize that this is strange but it works for me. The idea is to see the manuscript totally out of context. For months you have looked at the monitor and have become too accustomed to format and style, you miss things, you jump around, you leave junk between the lines. This fast reread gets it going, lets you fall in love all over again. The one thing that hopefully happens is how much you may become impressed with yourself, “Damn, did I write that? That’s good, real good. Wow. Maybe I have a future in this writing gig.” So now, onto the grind.
The Grind - Paper Version
Print this version, double spaced, in a readable font such as Times Roman or similar. Make sure the pages are titled (for every printing, change the header name and date) and numbered (no section/chapter breaks, I’ll let you have chapter/page breaks, but nothing more). You will again be impressed by the stack of paper, and spare me the wasted paper issue, by the time you are done you will refill that box from Office Max with reprinted and edited versions. They can all go to the recycler.
Shout it to the Streets
Read out loud this paper version, making notes and revisions as you go along on the manuscript. It is amazing how much you will find by reading out loud your story; you will revise sentences and flow (mostly shorten them), especially in the dialog portions. If it flows when you read it (with some dramatic flair, it’s unavoidable) then it will read well silently.
Next week we will look at editing the computer file.