Edit, Proof, Rewrite, and Start Again

Look at that title and you’ll know what I have been doing lately. I have a romance novel, A Spirit in the Heart, that is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. The book is doing well, so I decided to offer a paperback version, because not everyone likes e-books.

The initial process for this was relatively easy. I chose the photo for the cover, did some simple design tasks, uploaded the text, and requested a couple of review copies that came to me within a few days. If you are producing a standard book, paperback or hard cover, please get review copies because that is where you see what went wrong. Believe me, plenty goes wrong.

Starting with the covers: there seemed to be too many text colors, and some of those colors were difficult to read against the photo I had chosen. I had to completely remake the cover, and it does look better.

Then I decided that I should probably read the book again. I didn’t really want to do this. I mean, I have gone over this manuscript so many times on my computer that I couldn’t imagine why I should read it again. But I did. Boy, oh boy, I hate to admit it, but I am still in the process and certain pages are a mess of mark outs, corrections, and additions. This is not an enjoyable part of the job.

How did I miss all these things before? One reason I can think of is that I read differently from a written page as opposed to one on a computer screen. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it; and I know others who would agree with me on this point. I just know that I catch my errors quicker on a hard copy.

When I finally finish proofing this book, I will upload the manuscript again, not only for the paperback, but also the e-book format, because those errors are in there too. How embarrassing. I hope the readers will forgive me.

This is one more item I can list under “valuable lessons learned.” No piece of writing is perfect. Never, no matter how many times you edit, proof and rewrite. That applies to books, scripts, poems, essays, and blogs. And even if you correct all the grammatical and spelling errors and rework some of the sentences, there will come a time when you look at it, smack yourself in the forehead and say, “Why did I do that?”

We want our work to be perfect, but mistakes will happen. We just have to do our best to weed them out to the best of our ability before presenting our art to others.

(Gosh, I wish I didn’t have to read this again.)

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Editing your work

I really do like to write. Sometimes, however, there are times when I write too much. I’m so anxious to put down every word that comes into my head that I don’t immediately realize I have included words that don’t really have to be there.

Take a look at that last sentence: “that don’t really have to be there.” The word “really” is unnecessary, but it just felt natural. I did it again. “…it just felt natural.” The word “just” is a throwaway.

One of my favorite words that gets inserted into my text is “actually.” Such as, “Actually, he did like to eat ice cream.” Totally not necessary, but I do it all the time.

I didn’t realize this quirk of mine until recently when I was proof reading one of my manuscripts. If you use Word’s review of a document to check spelling and grammar, it will tag certain phrases and suggest replacing them with one or two words. Remember, they are suggestions, but don’t use four words if one will do the job effectively.

Self-editing can be difficult. I know we have all gotten inspired and motivated to sit at the computer with flying fingers. That’s great, but typing the last period on a document, does not finish it.

I learned a great lesson on editing from a sale that I made to Woman’s Day magazine years ago. It was a short essay about learning to have fun with your children and to go down to their level now and then. The editors liked the idea, but the writing left much to be desired. In my defense, I was a fledgling writer, self-taught, and still learning.

Example of what I wrote: My two young daughters and my niece stood with me in the kitchen and watched the pounding rain. The three girls were obviously distressed.
Woman’s Day: They eliminated the last sentence. Wasn’t needed.
I wrote: So many times, I have believed….
Woman’s Day: Often I have believed.
I wrote: …they had never before had reason to come together in a group for the sake of play.
Woman’s Day: …they had never played in such a group.

It was embarrassing to see how much a good editor could do and maintain what I wanted to say. I was shocked to see that the final edit reduced the article by at least one-third. I used this essay when I taught classes in marketing freelance writing as an example of how we can get carried away with words, and why we don’t always need so many.

When I sold this piece, to say it was exciting is an understatement. I was thrilled to have a byline in a national publication, and the pay wasn’t bad either.

I’d like to add that a writer shouldn’t feel that she must always take the advice of an editor and change a specific word or phrase. Do keep an open mind and listen to the professionals, but if your words express what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it, protect them. We each have a style of writing, a voice, that is our own. Never abandon that to fit into a mold of someone else’s making.

Happy writing. Happy editing. I wish you success.

And if you find too many unnecessary words in this post, I don’t want to know about it.