Every writer has their own way of going about their work. Some edit as they go, looking back over every sentence, every paragraph time and again before starting on the next. Others get their day’s work out in one big splurge and don’t look at it again until the whole book is finished. Others want to plan every detail before they start typing. And there are others. Many, many others.
Whatever type of writer you are, there’s no better feeling than, after months (or years) of work, you find yourself typing ‘The End’.
Unfortunately, that phrase is a misnomer. Finishing your book is a long way from it being ‘The End’, at least for you. In fact, it’s really just the start. Someone would have to be an exceptional individual to finish their first draft and have a perfect, publish-ready piece of work in their hands. No matter how good they are, or how good their book is, there will be errors. There will be scenes that go nowhere, sub-plots that don’t work, characters who undermine the story. There will almost certainly be facts that need checking, grammar that needs tweaking, spelling mistakes, typos, layout and structural problems.
Sound daunting? It is. For most people, editing and rewriting is much less fun than writing. It takes concentration, ruthlessness, attention to detail and objectivity. Small wonder professional writers pay someone else to do it for them. But we’re not professional. Not yet, anyway. We have to do it ourselves.
Is it important? Damn right it is. A submission to an agent or publisher with typing, spelling or grammatical errors on page 1 (or anywhere) is going to end up on the slush pile. Before sending it off, your book has to be as perfect as it can possibly be, not just grammatically, but structurally and stylistically.
How to do it? First put it away. Seriously. I know you want to get it read, get it published, get it making money for you, but seriously, put it away. One month minimum. Optimally, six months. Forget about it. Let it get out of your head for a while. When you first finish your novel, you’re very closely connected to it. You can’t regard it objectively. The only way to regain that objectivity is to leave it alone. Completely. For a good few weeks.
Once you feel you have distance from it, read it through again. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it. But wait. Did you notice anything jarring? Make a note of it. Did something happen out of sequence? Did the dates seem wrong? Anything that seems out of place, or superfluous, note it down. If you’re using Word, use a bookmark so you can find that place again. If some things need moving around, do it. If you introduced a character then never did anything with them, cut them out. Any scenes that don’t play a part in moving the plot forward, get rid of them. Be ruthless.
Read it through again. Look for misspellings. Continuity, or lack of. Grammatical errors, overuse of a particular word, repetitions. Look for changes in style or voice. In third person limited point of view, make sure you don’t ‘switch heads’ mid-scene.
Once you’ve done all that, do it all again. Do it until you’re sick of it. Hate it. Despise it. Do it till you’re convinced your book is rubbish and no one will ever publish it. Most writers have been there. Most writers, once they’ve truly finished their book, will never want to read it ever again. But having done all that, you should have a book that’s polished, readable and engaging. A book whose readers can lose themselves in the world you’ve sweated blood to create.
It’s quite a journey but it’s worth it. Are you ready for it?